Jeff Kurtzman, a gay Los Angeles flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, has died from COVID-19 complications.
Kurtzman, 60, was one of 17 people to test positive after attending an in-person employee training session in Honolulu in late June, according to NBC News.
In an email sent to staff, Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram confirmed that Kurtzman was admitted to a hospital after returning to L.A. from Hawaii where he was later diagnosed. He died Tuesday.
“I am heart broken,” John Duran, a West Hollywood City Council member and former mayor, tells The Advocate. “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.”
Jeff Kurtzman (right) pictured with author Josh Irving Gershick. Photo by Andrea Krauss.
Longtime friend Connie Florez connected with Kurtzman while he was in Honolulu for the session. She told NBC Los Angeles that he said people got a “little lax” on the second day of the session but he'd chosen to keep his mask on.
"We’ve lost an angel,” she said.
Kurtzman had been working with Hawaiian Airlines since 1986. According to Florez, he loved his job. Traveling and connecting with the West Hollywood community were two of his biggest passions.
When news of his death was reported by the media, West Hollywood locals mourned the loss of their beloved friend:
The Hawaii Department of Health explained to NBC that this specific training session did not abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended guidelines on social distancing and that attendees were told that masks were optional.
Some of the people who’d contracted the virus had also unknowingly exposed eight household members. Furthermore, the health department linked 20 additional cases at two Hawaii recreational gyms to an infected person from the session.
Hawaiian Airlines has since resumed its training with stricter rules on the use of face masks and social distancing.
"We are reminded every day that this virus is serious and highly transmissible," Ingram wrote in an email to staff. "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."