Friday, July 03, 2020

Grocery stores offer comments on operations during the pandemic

May 24. 2020
Shoppers are spaced apart while waiting their turn to enter the Trader Joe's on 14th Street NW in the District of Columbia on April 10. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by John McDonnell
Shoppers are spaced apart while waiting their turn to enter the Trader Joe's on 14th Street NW in the District of Columbia on April 10. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by John McDonnell
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By The Washington Post · No Author · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, HEALTH 

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the country's nearly 40,000 grocery stores have been classified by officials as "essential" businesses that must remain open, putting the stores at the front lines of the crisis.

At least 100 grocery workers nationwide have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, since late March, and at least 5,500 others have tested positive, according to a Washington Post review of data from the nation's largest grocery workers union, other workers' rights coalitions and media reports. Below are comments provided by supermarket chains about their operations during the pandemic. 

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- Walmart 

Our associates are playing a critical role in helping people have access to fresh food, medicine and critical supplies during this crisis, and their safety is our highest priority. In areas experiencing community-wide outbreaks like Quincy and Worcester, our associates also felt the impact as members of those communities. We work closely with public health and medical experts and follow their guidance in implementing safety and health measures for our associates and customers.

Since the start of this pandemic we've been following the evolving guidance of health and medical experts, working diligently to ensure our response is appropriate to scale in how we protect our customers and associates, while also taking into account the complexities that surround each location and the varying dynamics at play in working with state and local authorities. With stores, clubs and other facilities located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population, the health of our associates tends to track with the health of the country as a whole. Given the significant differences in reporting criteria and standards in the different jurisdictions where we operate we are unable to confidently provide a specific number of cases at this time with a degree of certainty. However, we believe the number of associates that have contracted COVID-19 is better than the current U.S. trend. 

It may be impossible to track the source of anyone's infection, especially in some of the communities that have felt the devastating impact of the virus. As part of our response we have a clear protocol in place for how we are cleaning and sanitizing stores, and have provided guidance for managers to work through each confirmed case. Part of this overall process also involves reiterating to our associates the leave options available to them specific to this crisis, and administered by Sedgwick. We've seen a high adoption of those benefits, which is a strong indicator that our associates are hearing that their health is the most important factor. Additionally, we've sourced PPE and made those resources available for all associates.

While we are looking into Mr. Quiros' claims we have not been provided with enough information to substantiate them. Ms. Quiros was separated for performance reasons unrelated to any request for time off due to the Pandemic. These claims are not consistent with the experiences of the more than 235,000 people recently employed by Walmart or the countless other associates that have been able to utilize our emergency leave policy to stay home and keep their jobs protected.

- Lorenzo Lopez, Walmart spokesman

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- Kroger (owner of Ralph's and QFC)

Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to also provide open stores, ecommerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.

Since mid-March, we have invested $700 million to reward our associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities. On May 15 we announced a special Thank You Pay for hourly frontline associates - $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, totaling an additional $130 million - to acknowledge their dedication to maintaining safe, clean and stocked stores. The new Thank You Pay bookends an Appreciation Pay first provided to frontline associates for their efforts at the start of the pandemic in March. It also follows multiple Hero Bonuses that were paid in April through mid-May, with associates receiving their final payment by May 23.

In addition to these investments, we have recently provided new career opportunities to more than 100,000 workers nationwide, including those from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food service distributors, to support our retail, ecommerce, manufacturing and logistics operations. Kroger employs one of the largest unionized populations in the U.S. And prior to the crisis, our workforce topped 460,000 associates.

Ralph's outbreak: We decided early on to be transparent, ensuring our associates and customers feel valued and safe. This includes making sure our associates are informed. Once we're notified of associates who have a confirmed diagnosis, have symptoms, may have been exposed to the virus or have been asked to quarantine by a healthcare provider due to a health-related reason, a member of our HR team contacts the employee to offer support and gather additional information, such as when the symptoms began, when they were last at work and other relevant details. This process immediately ensures the manager is well informed and notifies all co-workers and encourages others to self-quarantine, if appropriate. 

Our guidance is always to communicate with integrity - openly and transparently - while protecting the privacy of any affected associate.

We are thankful to report 12 of the associates at the Hollywood store that we treated as if testing positive for COVID-19 have already fully recovered and returned to work. A total of 10 associates out of the store's total 158 associates are still self-isolating due to exposure, per the company's paid COVID-19 Emergency Leave guidelines. We have identified this location as a hot spot and are offering free testing to those symptomatic and asymptomatic.

Customer counting software: During this national pandemic, we committed to adopting preventive measures to help protect the safety and health of our associates, customers and communities. As an illustration, the standard building capacity for a grocery store is 1 person per 60 square feet. Under Kroger's reduced capacity limits, the number is 1 person per 120 square feet. By leveraging QueVision, our preexisting technology system that uses sensors and predictive analytics, we can more efficiently support capacity limits. Our management team also verifies limits, creating a safer environment.

Thermometer errors: We are unaware of any mass calibration thermometer errors. We also encourage our associates to monitor their own health and check their temperature at home before every shift.

Store closings/cleaning: Our practice is to perform a thorough deep cleaning by a third party with a focus on common and high-touch areas once we're notified of a confirmed case. In many cases, a store will close earlier than its scheduled time for this step to happen overnight. Below are the measures we have implemented and continue to execute to protect the safety of our associates, customers and communities:

- Offering COVID-19 testing to associates based on symptoms and medical need.

- Providing COVID-19 Emergency Leave to associates most directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms and providing paid time off.

- Supplying masks for all associates and encouraging them to stay home if they are sick.

- Encouraging customers to wear masks in stores, or alternatively, use ecommerce services.

- Providing comprehensive benefits packages, including healthcare coverage and retirement benefits.

- Offering $5 million through the organization's Helping Hands fund to provide financial support to certain associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19, including childcare costs.

- Making mental health resources readily available.

- Continuing implementation of customer capacity limits and special shopping hour for senior shoppers and higher-risk customers.

- Continuing the use of plexiglass partitions and physical distancing floor decals.

- Expanding contact-free payment solutions like Scan, Bag, Go and Kroger Pay.

- Offering a no-contact delivery option, low-contact pickup service and ship-to-home orders.

Reporting to health departments: Our stores coordinate with local health departments when we learn of a positive COVID-19 case in our workforce and take immediate action to support and safeguard our associates and customers. We are acutely aware and responding to the safety needs of our associates across our family of companies. We continue to work closely with federal, state and local public health authorities as they coordinate our country's response to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Number of employees who tested positive for covid-19/died from the virus: The cumulative effect of Kroger's safety efforts has contributed to our case rate being below that of the surrounding communities where we operate, and significantly below the national case rate. That doesn't mean there aren't hotspots; this is a pandemic and there are areas of the country where we have individual locations with higher rates of illness. In those areas, we're responding with additional safety measures, including associate testing.

- Kristal Howard, Kroger spokeswoman

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- Whole Foods Market 

Whole Foods Market is providing an essential service in our communities and like all businesses operating in this climate, we continue to balance that responsibility with our responsibility as an employer to ensure the health, safety and privacy of our Team Members. Any notification of a diagnosis in our stores is met with swift and comprehensive action and communication, and stores continue to diligently follow all guidance from local health and food safety authorities. Along with enhanced daily cleaning protocols, social distancing and crowd control measures, we require temperature screenings and face masks for in-store workers, and in addition to providing face masks, we offer gloves and personal face shields for added protection. We are auditing all of these practices on a daily basis to help protect the health and safety of our Team Members and customers, which remains our highest priority.

We do notify health departments of confirmed cases in our stores and diligently follow the guidance of local health and foody safety authorities.

Like most grocery retailers, we have Team Members who have been affected by COVID-19, and are supporting any Team Member diagnosed or placed in quarantine so they can prioritize their health and stay home. Our priority is ensuring safety in our stores, which is why we address any confirmed diagnosis in our stores or facilities with a comprehensive action plan that includes enhanced cleaning and contact tracing, as well as communicating directly with our Team Members. If a customer has a question about a specific location, they are encouraged to reach out to our customer care team for information.

Because of the thorough nature of our daily enhanced cleaning procedures and our escalated safety protocols, our stores remain open to serve our communities under the guidance of health officials.

We made the decision to temporarily close our Lynnfield location out of an abundance of caution. The store has had multiple professional deep cleanings and disinfections throughout the facility, and we are following the guidance of health and food safety authorities.

- Rachel Malish, Whole Foods Market spokeswoman

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- BJ's Wholesale Club 

The safety of our team members, members and communities is our top priority. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have taken aggressive actions and implemented extensive safety and sanitation measures across all our facilities; and we always encourage our team members to provide feedback and voice concerns. We're fully focused on supporting our team members and operating our clubs with the highest safety standards. Some of our safety measures include, but are not limited to:

- Significantly increased sanitation and deep cleaning protocols on top of our already high standards.

- Continuous communication reinforcing social distancing protocols and using signage, floor decals and overhead announcements to enforce.

- Limiting the number of members to no more than 20% of a club's capacity at any given time.

- Providing masks and gloves to all team members, and face shields for certain positions.

- Mandating that customers wear masks while in our clubs where required by state or local authorities and requesting it in all other locations.

- Additional training on safety and sanitation practices and procedures.

- Temperature checks of all team members and on-site vendors upon arrival.

- Mobile and fixed sneeze-guard barriers placed in checkout lanes, at the membership desk and at our exit for the receipt-checking process to maintain social distancing protocols.

- Waived absenteeism policy.

- Provide standard pay for up to 14 days for team members under mandated quarantine or who have tested positive for COVID-19.

- Notifying all team members, regardless of shift, when there is a confirmed diagnosis in their club.

- Immediately bring in a third-party industrial cleaning vendor to thoroughly sanitize and clean the club after any notification of a confirmed diagnosis.

- Covering the cost of testing and COVID-related treatment for those enrolled in our health plans.

- Donating more than $1 million to support relief funds, hunger relief programs and hospitals throughout our footprint.

- Ensuring team members have access to financial assistance through our employee relief fund.

- Requiring any vendor employee to wear a mask while in our clubs.

- Going above and beyond CDC guidelines and recommendations in our safety and sanitation protocols and communicate with local health officials.

- Kristy Houston, BJ's Wholesale Club spokeswoman

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- Best Market/Lidl

We are taking significant steps to protect the health and safety of our team members during this public health emergency. Across our entire store network, we are providing paid leave for all employees over the age of 65 or with documented health conditions that put them at higher risk of complications related to COVID-19. We also modified our attendance policy to allow all employees to stay home with full pay if they are sickened by the virus or placed under quarantine.

When any team member tests positive for COVID-19, we immediately place that person on paid leave for 14 days and put all associates who may have had close contact with that person on paid leave out of an abundance of caution. To date, more than 150 employees without any symptoms have been put on paid administrative under this policy.

At all our stores, we have enhanced our cleaning regimen to meet or exceed guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We are limiting the number of customers in our stores to encourage social distancing, equipping our team members with masks and gloves, and installed protective barriers at checkout lanes.

We take our responsibility to protect our team members seriously.

Confirmed Case of Covid-19 at Franklin Square Store: We follow the latest guidelines established by the CDC at all our stores which stipulates the incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days. When we learn of a confirmed employee case, we conduct a close contact trace and put any employee who may have had close contact with an infected employee on paid administrative leave for the period of time that extends to 14 days from exposure. Prior to returning to work, our HR team screens those employees to ensure that they have not developed symptoms. In the case you cited at Franklin Square, the employee who tested positive had not been at work for nine days when we learned of the diagnosis. At that point, we immediately contacted the employee you mention. We determined that she was last in contact with the infected employee nine days prior. Despite having no symptoms, we placed her on paid administrative leave for five days to fully cover the 14-day period since possible exposure. Prior to returning to work, per our policy, our HR team contacted her to ensure no symptoms had developed before returning to the store.

Passing of Gladys Cortes: We were saddened when we learned of her passing. Gladys was a valued member of our team for many years and brought enthusiasm and passion to work every day. Gladys last worked at the store in Islip on March 30th, and we have no reports indicating that she was sick while working. Our policy is clear that employees who are sick should stay home. We reiterate this policy to our team and our store management regularly. We first learned of Glady's positive diagnosis and of her passing on April 9th. As soon as we were informed, we immediately briefed employees at the store on the same day through in-person meetings. We also issued a letter the following morning to all team members at the store on their paycheck. In the letter to employees, we pointed out that we thoroughly clean all our stores every day throughout the day. When an employee with confirmed case of COVID-19 worked in the store within a five-day period, we will also have a third-party company specializing in sanitization conduct an additional deep cleaning of the store. According to CDC guidance, five days is the maximum time the virus can live on surfaces. In this case, Gladys was not in the store for nine days. We reported the case to the appropriate regulatory authorities, who investigated and closed the case.

- William Harwood, Lidl spokesman

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- Target

At Target, our priority has always been the safety and well-being of our team, and that's the approach we've taken throughout the coronavirus. Since early March, we've introduced dozens of safety, social distancing and rigorous cleaning measures at our stores across the country. The number of confirmed cases we're seeing across our team is lower than the percent being reported for the U.S population. But even a single case gets our attention, which is why you see us working so hard to do everything we can to protect our team and our guests.

We're informing team members who work at a location where a case of the coronavirus is confirmed and we'll continue to be transparent in the process, along with the measures we put in place to address it. While being transparent, we're also careful to keep team member privacy from being compromised with the information we share. There are some details we do not provide, as it increases the likelihood of a team member's privacy being compromised.

We're following health expert guidance and we're providing information that any health department requests of us. 

We want all team members to feel comfortable sharing their concerns. We provide opportunities for team members to share feedback, either through team leaders or through anonymous reporting. 

While I can't provide company-by-company detail, what I can share is our high-level approach.

Partners who operate in our stores receive updated information regarding our policies and expectations as we monitor and address the evolving situation pertaining to the coronavirus. 

Additionally, we routinely communicate CDC guidance in and around stores to reinforce these important measures.

- Danielle Schumann, Target spokeswoman

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- Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's has long been known as an employer of choice because of our industry-leading compensation and benefits we provide our Crew Members, as well as our caring culture and the communication we maintain with our Crew Members. This has held true as we have addressed the COVID-19 coronavirus. Since the beginning, we've looked to the CDC and local and state health officials for guidance on best health and safety practices, meeting and exceeding all recommendations and guidelines on everything from the implementation of proper cleaning and safety measures to the proper handling, tracking and reporting of positive cases.

Upon notification of any possible exposure to COVID-19 in any of our stores, we follow practices that meet or exceed CDC and other health official requirements. Our actions vary by situation, and depending on the date range of potential exposure, can include notifying the public and Crew Members, and closing our stores for additional, thorough cleaning and sanitization. We take a hyper careful approach by closing stores in these instances, and we do not reopen a store until we are satisfied that further intense cleaning and sanitation has been completed.

Any time someone at one of our stores tests positive and they were recently in the store, we close the store for an additional, thorough cleaning and post the closure on our website, in addition to posting a notice on the door of the store. We stay in touch with local and state health officials and comply with all reporting requirements for COVID-19. In fact health officials consistently tell us that we go above and beyond.

The CDC recommends there be an additional cleaning if someone who is sick has been in a facility within the last 7 days, however that additional cleaning is something Trader Joe's does in our stores every day. This thorough cleaning is done in addition to the cleaning that takes place throughout the day, every day. 

At Trader Joe's we pride ourselves on operating our business with integrity and adhering to the law at all times. We also listen to our Crew Members and customers, appreciate and often implement their ideas and input, and take all concerns seriously. From the beginning, we have made it clear that Mr. King's employment at Trader Joe's did not end because of desire to set up a social media page or because he expressed concerns. When asked further about that, I have been clear that due to for privacy reasons I am not at liberty to say more.

As this unprecedented situation continues to evolve, so has our approach to doing all we can to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our Crew Members and customers. Every day, we're listening to Crew Members and customers and re-evaluating what we're doing and what we can do better. Our Crew Members are the heart of the company, every day going above and beyond to take care of customers and their communities. We want to do everything we can to take care of them. Their safety and wellbeing have been at the center of every decision we've made, throughout this situation. Over the months, we have provided safety and sanitation guidelines and protocols for our stores and reinforced these new measures with regular reminders and updates. We were one of the first grocery stores to reduce store hours, regulate the number of customers in our stores, and implement social distancing protocol in all stores.

Examples of additional measures we've taken: 

- Early on we instituted enhanced cleaning and sanitization efforts at all of our stores, especially in high-touch areas, as we know this is the best way to combat any potential virus.

- All of our stores are conducting Crew Member Wellness Checks with all Crew Members, prior to the start of each shift. The Wellness Checks screen for potential exposure to COVID-19, as well as symptoms consistent with a COVID-19 infection. They are an extra precaution we are taking to reduce the possibility of any Crew Members inadvertently exposing their fellow crew or our customers to illness. 

- Any Crew Member who had health insurance before the pandemic will keep that insurance, no matter how many hours they work. This allows Crew Members the opportunity to take a couple of days or a couple of weeks off without repercussions to their jobs or the benefits they've come to enjoy.

- We implemented bonus pay as well as $2/hour increases of thank you pay on top of already industry-leading pay that is $15/hour starting pay. The average tends to be much higher because Crew Members have the potential to receive a 7%-10% annual increase.

- We have increased Crew Members' store discount to 20%.

- Even before the CDC changed it's guidance on masks, at the start of April, we had masks made for all of our Crew Members and we had plexiglass shields installed at registers at all of our stores, starting with stores located in areas that have higher COVID-19 cases.

- We've reduced store hours to support our Crew Members in taking care of one another and our customers.

- We were one of the first grocery stores to limit the amount of customers in our stores at one time, and implement social distancing measures in all stores, to help ensure all Crew Members and customers are able to maintain the recommended 6-foot distance when working or shopping.

- We've dedicated a special shopping hour for only our senior customers over the age of 60 and other vulnerable customers who may need extra assistance while shopping. 

- Kenya Friend-Daniel, Trader Joe's spokeswoman

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