Kaiser Permanente's medical office campus in Lancaster, California. (Photo via Daysi Janssen/Flickr)

Officials with Kaiser Permanente's San Jose Medical Center have spoken with additional staff members in recent days about working in the event there is a staff shortage following a coronavirus outbreak there, a hospital official said Monday.

A total of 44 staff members in the medical center's emergency department tested positive between Dec. 27 and New Year's Day.

According to Irene Chavez, the hospital's senior vice president and area manager, the outbreak is believed to be tied to a staff member wearing an inflatable Christmas tree costume on Christmas Day.

The costume's fan likely blew coronavirus particles into the facility, something Chavez characterized as “completely innocent and quite accidental.” The staff member had no symptoms at the time.

“Obviously this is a highly unusual situation involving a well-intentioned staff member acting on their own without advance notice or approval,” Chavez said in a statement. “We are reinforcing with our staff that we do not allow these devices in our facilities.”

Contact tracing is ongoing and all medical center employees suspected of having contracted the virus are not working for the time being and are isolating at home.

The emergency department itself is being deep cleaned in addition to the hospital's existing cleaning standards, according to Chavez.

All health care workers at the facility will have access to weekly testing for the virus, with expedited results for those with symptoms or exposure to someone who tested positive.

The medical center remains open at this time, according to Chavez. Masks are required in all areas of the facility and additional safety precautions prohibiting sharing of food and drinks and gathering in break rooms remain in effect.

“Even as the vaccine is beginning to be provided in our communities, given the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community we are all still vulnerable and it remains critical for everyone to continue using the methods to help protect ourselves and others — especially masks, hand washing, avoiding gatherings, and social distancing,” Chavez said.

Eli covers public health, transportation and state politics for the Pagransen, serves as the main editor of the Public Health and COVID-19 Information Hub and assists with Pagransen' social media strategy. He has also previously covered local politics in San Diego County as well as college and professional sports across the Bay Area.