The Ralphs supermarket chain announced Friday that it will offer coronavirus tests to all 20,000 Southern California employees. The action comes a day after the NBC4 I-Team revealed COVID-19 outbreaks at numerous supermarkets, including several Ralphs.
"Ralphs will begin offering take-home tests for all of our associates beginning in mid-May," said John Votava, a Ralphs spokesman. Votava said that all employees can get a test whether or not they're experiencing symptoms. Employees will be able to take a swab test at home, mail in the sample and get results within days.
One of Southern California’s biggest grocery chains with 188 stores, Ralphs has experienced a number of COVID-19 outbreaks among its employees, the largest being a cluster of 19 cases at the store known as "Rock and Roll Ralphs" on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
Workers protested outside of that Ralphs Friday morning, calling on the company to provide more protection for its employees. One of the demonstrators told the I-Team: “We’re asking the company to do more to protect the health of these workers."
Jackie Mayoral, a customer service worker at the Sunset location, tested positive for COVID-19 on April 25. She explained that the coronavirus is “10 times worse” than any flu she’s had.
NBC4 learned another five employees at a Ralphs in Westwood have also contracted the virus. And the upscale Bristol Farms market on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood also had five employees test positive, according to the LA County Public Health Department website. Ralphs wouldn't confirm the number of its stores with employees who tested positive but said its "in the double digits."
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Multiple grocery store chains are putting more protective measures in place to heighten the safety of customers and workers. Many, like Ralphs, have installed plexiglass shields at checkout counters to protect cashiers and are providing gloves and masks to workers. Some chains like Walmart have placed floor decals to remind customers to practice social distancing.
“We’ve already implemented layers of safety for our associates,” Ralphs spokesman John Votava told NBC4. Referring to the COVID-19 tests it will soon offer employees, Votava said, “This is going to be another layer of protection on top of that.”
On Friday, the I-Team asked Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the county health department, what the county is doing to make sure supermarkets are following safety guidelines. She urged customers to call a tip line if they see any stores flouting safety guidelines set by LA County.
“People can call in those complaints and we do send out our environmental health inspector to make sure that all the essential businesses are adhering to the health officer order directive,” Ferrer said.
In addition to the safety protocols at grocery stores, customers are urged to wear a mask and gloves, sanitize their carts and baskets and physically distance themselves from other customers and employees.
The phone number for the county tip line is 888-700-9995. Concerned customers or employees can also file an online complaint here.
NBC4 called the Bristol Farms for comment about its outbreak. Assistant Manager Eddie Hernandez wouldn't comment and directed us to corporate headquarters. So far, NBC4 has not received a comment from corporate.