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Flight attendant linked to cluster at Hawaiian Airlines training program dies after testing positive for COVID-19

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A Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant who participated in a Honolulu training program that resulted in a COVID-19 outbreak died Tuesday night after testing positive in California.

Jeff Kurtzman, a senior flight attendant based in Los Angeles, was diagnosed earlier this month with the coronavirus, Hawaiian President and CEO Peter Ingram wrote in a message to employees.

Kurtzman, 60, 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,” Ingram wrote. “He embodied the values of aloha and malama that we hold dear.”

Kurtzman was part of a cluster 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. An infected person 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 Federal Aviation Administration- required training last week with stricter rules including the use of face masks, smaller class sizes and social distancing, and 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. “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.”

Hawaii health officials reported Wednesday the state’s 25th coronavirus death — an Oahu man between 40 and 59 years old who is the fourth COVID-19 fatality in this age group and the 18th death on Oahu. Six have been on Maui and one was a Kauai resident who died in Arizona.

“All of Hawaii joins in extending condolences to the family and friends of this man during this very difficult time,” said state Health Director Bruce Anderson.

Officials also reported 17 new confirmed cases — all on Oahu — bringing the statewide total number of infections since the start of the outbreak to 1,435.

There were 297 active infections in the islands and a total of 1,113 patients now considered recovered — or more than 77% of those infected. There were 47 people with the virus currently hospitalized in Hawaii, 41 on Oahu, five on the Big Island and one on Maui. Of all the confirmed Hawaii cases since the start of the outbreak, 154 have required hospitalizations, including two Hawaii residents treated outside the state. Of the 108,813 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories, 1.3% have been positive.

Wedneday’s statewide coronavirus case total includes 1,117 on Oahu, 139 in Maui County, 114 on Hawaii island, 43 in Kauai County and 22 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.

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