A senior Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant based in Los Angeles died last night after testing positive for the coronavirus in California.
Jeff Kurtzman, 60, was diagnosed earlier this month with COVID-19, Hawaiian President and CEO Peter Ingram wrote in a message to employees.
Kurtzman joined the airline in 1986 and had become known over the past three decades for his “passion for discovering new places, people and cultures; his terrific sense of humor and knack for easy conversation; and his caring heart,” he wrote. “He embodied the values of aloha and malama that we hold dear.”
He was part of an outbreak at a workplace training program, where 17 employees contracted the virus as of July 10. No new cases have been reported since then, according to a company spokesman.
Airline staff members were exposed at the training session where “physical distancing was not practiced and masks were optional,” according to the state Department of Health. Those employees then exposed eight household members who tested positive. A positive case who attended the training session sparked outbreaks at two Oahu gyms with 20 positive cases, the DOH said.
“None of these cases knew they were positive when they unintentionally infected others,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “At the airline training session and at both gyms there was inconsistent or no use of masks and physical distancing. That’s why we all need to wear masks and practice physical distancing as if we were positive.”
The airline said it resumed FAA-required training last week with stricter rules including the use of face masks, smaller class sizes and social distancing, frequent cleaning and disinfection of equipment.
“All of our instructors have been tested, and the approximately 60 employees who have been through recent training were asked to self-quarantine and monitor their health,” the company said, adding that the self-monitoring period associated with the training has ended and all employees have returned to work unless they took a voluntary furlough.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said it is “heartbroken” by the loss of Kurtzman, a “well-respected, loved and a long-time part of our flying family.”
“We are putting in place a support system for any flight attendant affected by this tragic loss, while also rededicating ourselves to fight for safety in the skies and throughout aviation,” said Joni Kashiwai, president of the union that represents Hawaiian employees. “Tonight, our hearts are with the family of our beloved flying partner and we offer our deepest condolences to them.”
Ingram said the company is following up with employees recovering from the virus.
“We are reminded every day that this virus is serious and highly transmissible,” he said. “We have strengthened the mandates and protocols governing how we interact with each other at our facilities and I urge us all to continue to practice the utmost vigilance.”