A Walmart in Colorado was shut down Thursday after a COVID-19 outbreak killed three people linked to the store amid complaints about a lack of social distancing in the store.
Officials with the Tri-County Health Department in Colorado announced the Walmart Supercenter at 14000 East Exposition in Aurora, would close after an employee, a spouse and an independent contractor died of the coronavirus.
The victims, who have not publicly been identified, include a 72-year-old Walmart staffer, her 63-year-old husband and a 69-year-old third-party security contractor.
Six other Walmart employees tested positive for COVID-19 and three additional workers are awaiting their lab results.
‘We are extremely saddened by this news and offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the three people we lost,’ said John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, Executive Director of Tri-County Health Department in a statement.
A Colorado-based Walmart was shutdown Thursday after an employee, her husband and a security contractor died of COVID-19
‘These deaths underscore the severity of the highly-contagious coronavirus, and the need for diligent safety precautions to prevent any further spread, including the wearing of masks.’
The department revealed the Walmart Supercenter shuttered after employees and shoppers complained about ‘the lack of social distancing, too many people in the store at one time, and employees not wearing masks or face coverings.’
An anonymous employee told The Denver Post that the store was swarmed with shoppers and didn’t adhere to public health guidelines on Thursday.
‘It was terrible. There was no way we could be six feet apart. There were wall-to-wall people. They just bombarded at one time,’ the employee said.
‘We’re supposed to only have a certain amount of people in there but we didn’t. It was too many, they were everywhere.’
Employees and shoppers complained that there was a ‘lack of social distancing’ inside the Colorado store
The employee said although face masks are required of Walmart staffers, some younger workers in the Colorado store forwent the measure.
‘Some of the young kids, they were walking around without them. Sometimes customers would come in and tell them, “Shouldn’t you have your mask on?” Or they’d have it on but they’d have it under the mouth,’ they said.
Employees at retailers like Amazon made similar complaints and have staged protests at warehouses across the country.
Gerard Tuzara, an Air Force veteran and operations manager, was the first Amazon employee to die of COVID-19 on March 31.
Pictured: Cashier Baby San wears a face shield and gloves as she scans items at grocery store Super Cao Nguyen, in Oklahoma City, due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus.
Some stores have aded plexiglass sneeze guards to cash registers to keep employees safe during the pandemic
At least 30 Amazon employees at a New Jersey warehouse contracted COVID-19, marking it the largest known outbreak for the retail giant.
In response to the deaths, a Walmart spokesperson said: ‘Colorado has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, and several associates at this store have tested positive.
Gerard Tuzara was formerly an officer in the US Air Force before he began working at Amazon
‘Sadly, one of our associates has passed away. The temporary closure will allow third-party cleaning experts to further clean and sanitize the store.’
‘We will continue to work closely with Tri-County Health Department and take additional steps as needed to re-open the store.’
Colorado has recorded 11,278 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 552 deaths.
On Thursday, Sens. Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal and Kristen Gillibrand wrote a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to ask that the company prioritize the health of workers over income.
‘We write today to strongly urge you to do more to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of your employees who are also our constituents, friends, family members, and neighbors,’ they wrote.
The letter pointed to Walmart employees who complained that protective gear provided by the company was ‘in short supply, of poor quality, and that the gloves and masks only come in one size that is often too small for many of the workers who have to use them.’
Pictured: Demonstrators gather in front of the Colorado State Capitol building to protest coronavirus stay-at-home orders during a “ReOpen Colorado” rally in Denver, Colorado last week
Pictured: A shopper wears a face mask as he jumps out of his car and uses his mobile telephone to make a video of the empty parking lot in front of a Walmart closed by the deaths of three people connected with the store after being infected by the new coronavirus
The letter also said Walmart locations haven’t implemented safeguards they announced in a March 31 memo, like regular temperature checks and installing plexiglass shields at checkout stations.
‘Given the size of your operation, any failure of Walmart to keep its workforce safe does not only put your employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk,’ the letter said.
Walmart has not disclosed how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19 or died of it, but two Evergreen Park, Illinois, employees died earlier this year from the disease.
Wando Evans, a 51-year-old overnight maintenance worker, died on March 25 after working for Walmart for 15 years.
Phillip Thomas, 48, died four days later on March 29 following nine years at the store. He was turning 49-year-olds on April 12.
(Left to Right) Wando Evans and Phillip Thomas, two employees at an Evergreen Park Walmart, died of coronavirus just four days apart
Both men suffered underlying health conditions, Patch reported.
Walmart said neither employee had been in the Evergreen Park store ‘for more than a week.’
It’s unclear when the two men contracted COVID-19 or if it happened while on the job.
Mayor Jim Sexton of Evergreen Park consequentially suspended Walmart’s liquor license, but reinstated it on Wednesday.
An investigation into Evans and Thomas’ death was opened after Sexton learned of the deaths from Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea, who saw Facebook posts about the mens’ deaths.
In response, Walmart overhauled cleaning efforts in the past week with a ‘third-party safety and environmental compliance assessment as well as a health department inspection.’
This included decontamination of the front entrance, carts, registers, bathrooms and food areas.
‘This is in addition to the cleaning measures we have implemented in all stores, including installing sneeze guards at registers, placing social distancing decals on the floors and limiting the number of customers in a store at a given time,’ the statement read.
‘It seems like they’re trying to make a bad situation better,’ said Sexton. ‘The store is safe now for workers and shoppers. Everything is going to be changed now.’
Additionally, Walmart has addressed the coronavirus crisis by placing social distancing markers around stores and installing plexiglass barriers at checkout aisles.
Walmart also said they’ve limited the amount of customers allowed inside stores at one time and started checking employees’ temperatures at the beginning of each shift.
The Washington Post reports that thousands at grocery store staffers nationwide continue to work as 927, 360 Americans were infected with COVID-19 and 52,422 died.
Those numbers include grocery store employees who have complained of not having protective gear – like face masks and gloves – during shifts. Dozens have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Experts said the influx of employee infections and deaths could likely affect grocers’ ability to both maintain and add new staff.
Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, announced they would hire 150,000 workers, while Kroger will boost staff by 10,000.
Several grocers’ are incentivizing potential workers with promises of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and an extra $2 an hour.
But finding people willing to step onto the frontlines of the pandemic for minimum wage salaries might not be enough to close the deal, said supermarket analyst Phil Lempert.
He said: ‘One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to. They’re starting to become proactive now, but it’s still going to be much tougher to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers.
‘We’re going to start seeing people say, “I’ll just stay unemployed instead of risking my life for a temporary job.”‘
Analysts believe clashes between staffers and companies could become more dire as co-workers continue to fall ill.
As grocers attempt to navigate sales amid the COVID-19 crisis, some stores like Whole Foods and Kroger have begun testing online-only shopping.
Today reports that select Whole Foods stores in New York City, San Francisco and Baltimore are only taking online orders.
A Kroger location in Cincinnati, Ohio, is testing curbside pick-up.