Grocery workers continue to be at a high risk from COVID-19
Grocery shopping has settled into a rhythm since the tumultuous early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic. A newly released study shows, however, that a significant risk remains for employees, which could have implications for grocers and shoppers as the pandemic’s latest wave wears on.
More than 20 percent of 104 grocery store workers at a Boston grocer tested positive for the novel coronavirus in May, despite three quarters being asymptomatic, according to a study which was published on Thursday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, CNN reported. The level of spread among employees was significantly greater than that in the communities surrounding the store, and customer-facing employees were five times more likely to test positive than employees in other types of roles.
In terms of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, 91 percent of store staff reported wearing masks at all times during work and 77 percent said they wore masks outside of work, but only 66 percent were able to socially distance while on the job.
A series of grim headlines about the deaths of retail employees from COVID-19 early in the pandemic brought national attention to the fact that working in grocery stores could put employees in harm’s way.
Grocery workers were briefly hailed as heroes in the media, and many large retailers instituted “hero bonuses” to grocery associates whose jobs required that they interact with the public. By mid-May, though, retailers like Kroger were publicly discussing rolling back their bonuses. (At Kroger, the hero pay was an extra $2 per hour.)
By mid-October most major retailers had ended their hero bonus programs, according to a CNN article. Lowe’s and Target, however, have instituted new financial bonus programs since then.
In the U.S., COVID-19 cases are now at a record high and hospitalizations have climbed beyond where they were in mid-August, according to NBC News.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that the novel coronavirus is spread primarily through close interaction between people, and that the longer and closer the interaction the greater the chance of transmission. The CDC recommends minimizing in-store grocery shopping during the pandemic.
- About 20% of grocery store workers had Covid-19, and most didn’t have symptoms, study found – CNN
- Running Essential Errands – CDC
- Should grocers keep paying their associates like heroes? – RetailWire
- Target to pay more than $70 million in bonuses to hourly employees ahead of holidays – CNBC
- Third wave of coronavirus infections in the U.S.? More like ‘wildfire,’ epidemiologist says – NBC News
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do grocers need to reassess and possibly increase coronavirus protections for staff and customers as the latest wave of the pandemic continues, and if so what further actions can they make? How can customers and staff be reassured about the safety of grocery shopping in light of these numbers?