Jeff Kurtzman was a senior flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines who tested positive for the coronavirus, along with 17 other people, and died following an in-person training event.
Kurtzman, age 60, died Tuesday, July 21, 2020, at a hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19. He was based in Los Angeles, and was a beloved member of the West Hollywood community, council member and former West Hollywood mayor told The Advocate.
The Hawaii Department of Health is investigating a cluster of COVID-19 cases they believe was linked to the training in Honolulu, Hawaii in late June. In addition to 17 employees who tested positive for the coronavirus after the training, eight family members of those employees tested positive, and 20 cases were reported at two Oahu gyms, which one employee visited.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jeff Kurtzman Was One of 17 People Who Tested Positive for The Coronavirus After a Hawaiian Airlines Training Event
The Hawaii Department of Health said a Hawaiian Airlines training event sparked a novel coronavirus outbreak, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Jeff Kurtzman was one of 17 people who tested positive for the coronavirus following the FAA-required training in late June. The Department of Health told the Star-Advertiser at the training, “physical distancing was not practiced and masks were optional.”
After 17 employees contracted the coronavirus, eight family members of those employees also contracted COVID-19. An employee who attended the training also unknowingly exposed people to the coronavirus at two Oahu gyms, sparking an additional 20 positive tests, the Department of Health said.
“None of these cases knew they were positive when they unintentionally infected others,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo to the Star-Advertiser. “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.”
Hawaiian Airlines held another FAA-required training last week, and put strict regulations in place, including requiring masks, smaller class sizes and social distancing, the airline told the Star-Advertiser.
“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 airline said.
2. Jeff Kurtzman Was a Senior Flight Attendant for Hawaiian Airlines & Joined the Company in 1986
Jeff Kurtzman was a senior flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, and was based out of Los Angeles. He attended an in-person training event for Hawaiian Airlines, and later tested positive for the coronavirus, along with 17 other people. His positive COVID-19 test result came in July, and he died July 21, ABC 27 reported.
Kurtzman joined Hawaiian Airlines in 1986, Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Peter Ingram told ABC 27 in an email, and “…over the past three decades had become well known to his In-Flight colleagues 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 embodied the values of aloha and malama that we hold dear,” the email said.
Ingram told the news station that the company would be contacting Jeff Kurtzman’s husband to offer their support. They are also monitoring the health of other employees who tested positive.
“We are reminded every day that this virus is serious and highly transmissible,” Ingram wrote. “We have strengthened the mandates and protocols governing how we interact with each other at our facilities, and I urge us all to practice the utmost vigilance.”
3. Jeff Kurtzman Loved Air Travel & Adventure; He Was Grateful His Job Gave Him Access to Both
Jeff Kurtzman loved his job. He loved air travel and he loved adventures. He was also an avid photographer, and he was grateful for a job that allowed him to see the world, his friend, Connie Florez, told NBC Los Angeles.
“He wanted to see more of the world, and he was an avid photographer, so he loved that,” Florez said.
Kurtzman joined the company in 1986, and was a senior flight attendant based out of Los Angeles for Hawaiian Airlines. Florez told NBC Los Angeles she was thrilled that Kurtzman would be attending work training in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she lived. It was her 60th birthday.
The airline told NBC Los Angeles they strengthened protocols on interactions, and added the training was an FAA-required course. Florez said Kurtzman did not express to her any concerns about going to the training, but that he was just happy to see his friends and colleagues again.
4. Jeff Kurtzman Told His Friend Social Distancing ‘Got a Little Lax’ on the Second Day of Training
Jeff Kurtzman told his longtime friend, Connie Florez, that social distancing restrictions “got a little lax” on the second day of training, according to NBC Los Angeles. He said he kept his mask on, and added that he didn’t want to get sick.
He attended an FAA-required training with Hawaii Airlines in Honolulu, Hawaii in late June. He and 16 others who attended the training tested positive for COVID-19. Kurtzman died in the hospital July 21.
“He said some of them got a little lax on the second day, but I kept my mask on. I don’t want to get sick,” Florez said.
5. ‘We Lost an Angel,’ Said Jeff Kurtzman’s Friend of His Loss
Jeff Kurtzman was not concerned about himself after a test came back positive for COVID-19. He was concerned about those he interacted with before he knew he had the coronavirus, his longtime friend, Connie Florez, told NBC Los Angeles.
“He’s such a beautiful man. He just kept apologizing. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I know you must be scared,'” Florez said.
She told him, “We’re good, we’re negative, we’re okay, but you’re not okay.”
Florez said she often told Kurtzman more people in the world should be like him.
“He would always say I care so much for other people, it’s almost at a fault. I would say no, we just need more people like you. So really we’ve lost an angel,” she said.
Another friend, Glen Allen, posted a tribute to Kurtzman on Facebook. He described Kurtzman as a man who provided unwavering support, who carried on adult responsibilities while maintaining a childlike excitement about life.
“My heart is broken. COVID took my dear friend Jeff Kurtzman,” he wrote.￼￼￼ “Rarely do we meet friends who is unwaveringly supportive and encouraging.￼ A friend that knows the whole truth and shares the whole truth. A friend that knows how to how to handle adult responsibility while￼keeping a child like excitement for what life has to offer. Jeff was that friend to me. I would’ve never said yes to camping with bugs and dirt if it weren’t for Jeff. Camping in Bass Lake with some of the most miraculous times we had. ￼￼￼￼It was all or nothing. Go big or go home. I know Jeff had a big and great life. I am truly grateful for that and for the ongoing inspiration that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.￼ Thank you Jeff￼.”
Another friend, Vic Gerami, described Kurtzman as a person who was always there to offer encouragement.
“When I was going through tough times and needed hope and inspiration, you would always say, ‘God didn’t bring you this far ‘Vickerson’ to drop you now.’ You were always an optimist, full of love, compassion, and humor,” he wrote. “I was shocked and numb all day today, trying to wrap my head around your passing; but I finally broke down weeping as I write this at 2:00 a.m. I am crying for you, for me, but also for our community for losing a pillar, a leader, and a gentleman. You were one-of-a-kind, a gentle soul that touched so many people. Your generosity and love had no bounds. I miss you so much already that I have broken my rule of posting extremely personal things on social media. But it is the only way I know how to mourn your death and pay homage to my beautiful friend at this hour. I love you Jeff R Kurtzman ‘Jefferson.’”
Kurtzman was also a member of a gay chorus and a sobriety brother to his friend, John Duran, council member and former mayor of West Hollywood, told The Advocate.
“I am heart broken,” he said. “We sang together in the gay men’s chorus and he was a sobriety brother of mine. He was a sweet and gentle giant. He gave away more to others than he received. He was an inspiration and a joyful presence in my life — and hundreds of others.”