Numerous Southern California grocery stores, including several Ralphs Supermarkets, are experiencing outbreaks of coronavirus among its employees, the NBC4 I-Team has learned.
The biggest cluster of cases appears to be at a Ralphs market located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, where employees tell the I-Team that 19 workers so far have tested positive. Five employees at the Ralphs in Westwood on Weyburn Avenue have also contracted the virus.
"This is something that nobody should ever have to go through," said Jackie Mayoral, a customer service worker at the Sunset location who tested positive April 25. "COVID-19 is emotionally and physically and mentally rough on my body."
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Ralph's on Sunset, as well as other retail food businesses with outbreaks of six or more employees, are currently listed on the LA County Department of Public Health's website as part of the county's efforts to be transparent about COVID-19 outbreaks at retail food businesses.
Back in March, Jackie Mayoral says she had to bring her own protective gloves to work and carried extra gloves to have on hand for her coworkers.
"If we had the proper procedures, taking care, meaning masks and gloves, me and my fellow co-workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 wouldn't have tested positive," Mayoral told the I-Team. "I love my job. But the masks weren't available, and the proper gloves were not available as well."
In a statement to NBC4 Thursday, Ralphs said it started providing gloves to workers back in mid-February, and is now providing masks as well. Ralphs is also cleaning "high touch" areas of their stores every 30 minutes and has installed plastic shields at checkout stands to protect cashiers. The Ralphs located on Sunset has been deep cleaned twice since the outbreak among its employees, having been cleaned as recently as last night.
Ralph's spokesman John Votava told NBC4 that there are numerous stores in the chain with employees who have tested positive. When asked how many stores, he said it was "in the double digits."
There are a number of other food businesses that are experiencing coronavirus outbreaks, according to the LA County Health Department's website. A Walmart in Covina has eight positive employees and a Domino's Pizza at 3631 Crenshaw Blvd. has six employees.
The I-Team reached out to both companies. Walmart's statement is below.
In the meantime, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770, which represents grocery store workers in southern California, is calling on Ralphs to provide testing for all workers and customers at the Sunset Blvd store. Ralphs told NBC4 it is not set up to provide in-store testing but said its employees could get tested at any LA County testing site.
When asked what she would say to grocery store customers, afraid now to shop at supermarkets, Jackie Mayoral advised them to take the virus seriously.
"Please make sure your cart is sanitized, that you're wearing gloves. That you're wearing a mask," she said. "Don't be oblivious to this, it's everywhere."
Here's the full statement from Walmart:
"We are taking all measures necessary to ensure the well-being of those inside our stores, fulfillment centers and distribution centers.
In the case we do have a confirmed case at any of our stores, we are working with those associates and offering guidance and time needed to receive medical care. Associates have been encouraged to prioritize their health and stay home if feeling sick. We also implemented a COVID-19 emergency leave policy for all associates who feel unable or uncomfortable coming to work. This link takes you directly to the details of our COVID-19 Emergency Leave Policy, which was recently extended to through the end of May.
We’ve also been cleaning and sanitizing our stores regularly. We are focused on serving our customers and keeping our associates safe during this unprecedented time and we’ve implemented several measures intended to help bring peace of mind.
Specifically, we have/are:
- Enacted deep-cleaning and sanitizing protocols with guidance from the CDC and Walmart’s Chief Medical Officer.
- Conducting health screenings and temperature checks on our associates prior to them beginning their shifts. Should an associate have a fever (100 degrees or higher) or answer “yes” to our screening questionnaire, he/she will be asked to return home until symptoms subside or they go through necessary COVID-19 protocols.
- We are requiring associates to wear masks.
- Limiting the number of customers who can be in a store at the same time.
- Installed plexiglass barriers (sneeze guards) at our checkout lanes and pharmacy areas. (photos attached)
- Installed floor decals at the entrances and in checkout lanes that show exactly how far six feet is, making it easier for customers to judge the proper social distance from each other. (photos attached)
- Adjusted operating hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to help associates restock shelves while continuing to clean and sanitize the store.