California hospital fined over $40,000 after Santa Clara County says it delayed reporting Covid-19 outbreak

A Northern California hospital was fined $43,000 after it delayed reporting a recent Covid-19 outbreak which resulted in the death of one employee.

Santa Clara County said it issued a violation notice to Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center on January 5 “as a result of Kaiser’s failure to timely report 43 cases involving personnel who tested positive between December 27, 2020 and January 1, 2021.” That number has since grown, according to CNN affiliate KGO.

As of Monday, a total of 92 cases of the virus have been linked to this outbreak, according to health officials. This includes 77 staff members and 15 patients.

“Kaiser is responsible for complying with all applicable public health orders and work safety regulations, including timely reporting of cases and all required follow-ups,” the county said in an email statement to CNN.

The initial cause of the outbreak continues to be investigated by the public health department, officials said.

In a statement to KGO, Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager with Kaiser Permanente San Jose, said the outbreak “may” have been connected to an employee who briefly wore an “air-powered costume” in the emergency department on Christmas.

“Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent, and quite accidental,” said Chavez. “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.”

Air-powered costumes will no longer be allowed at the facility, Chavez added.

A public health order issued on October 5, 2020, requires the hospital to report any confirmed positive Covid-19 cases by personnel who were at the workplace to the public health department within four hours.

The fine for each violation is $1,000.

“Kaiser Permanente failed to report any of these cases in the County’s Worksite Case and Contact Reporting Portal as it is required to do by the Public Health Order issued on Oct. 5,” the county said in its statement. “Kaiser also submitted a Social Distancing Protocol to the County on Oct. 19 certifying it would comply with all reporting requirements.”

The county said it did not learn of the positive cases until they were confirmed in a press statement released by Kaiser Permanente on January 3.

In a statement to CNN, Kaiser Permanente Spokeswoman Hilary Costa said its communications with state and local agencies about Covid-19 cases at its facilities has been consistent.

“The suggestion that we are anything other than forthcoming with our reporting is inaccurate,” said Costa in the statement.

The hospital is reviewing the Santa Clara County citation and plans to respond by the County’s deadline on January 15, according to Costa.

The health department continues to investigate the cause of the outbreak. It was determined that outbreak was not the new variant of COVID-19 first identified in the UK.

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