Inflatable costume may have caused a COVID-19 outbreak

While air-powered, inflatable costumes can be loads of fun, one may be linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at a hospital in California.

A staffer at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, who was unknowingly infected with COVID-19 and had no symptoms, wore an inflatable Christmas tree costume to cheer up hospital employees and patients on Christmas Day (via USA Today). The costume included a fan, which may have helped to spread infected droplets into the air. Just over a week later, 44 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and one has died from complications from the virus. This new outbreak comes as California is quickly becoming the new epicenter of the pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent, and quite accidental, as the individual had no COVID symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time," Irene Chavez, the senior vice president and area manager of the hospital, told ABC7 News. "If anything, this should serve as a very real reminder that the virus is widespread, and often without symptoms, and we must all be vigilant."

How the costume could have spread the virus

While COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is typically spread through respiratory droplets that enter the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth, it can also be spread through aerosolization (via Business Insider). Aerosols can not only linger in the air, but they can also travel much further than respiratory droplets emitted through coughing or sneezing.

Fans, like the one in the inflatable costume, can propel infected particles at greater distances, potentially infecting people who are standing or sitting more than 6 feet away. This is why the World Health Organization has cautioned against the use of fans when people who are not part of your immediate family come to visit your home.

Although it has not yet been confirmed that the inflatable costume specifically caused the outbreak, the hospital will no longer allow the use of air-powered, inflatable costumes and is conducting an investigation to determine the exact cause.