An employee at the Fred Meyer grocery store on Northeast Glisan Street in Portland has tested positive for COVID-19, the company's corporate office confirms to WW.
"We were informed that there was an associate that contracted COVID-19," Fred Meyer spokesman Jeffery Temple says. "We are working with the health department and following their guidance to stay open and to provide in-depth cleaning."
Temple initially told WW that two employees had tested positive. At 4:30 pm, he called WW to say that, because of a “communication breakdown,” he initially provided incorrect information. Only one employee at the store tested positive for the virus, as did a Fred Meyer employee who does not work at the Northeast Glisan store.
The store employee has not worked at the location, at 6615 NE Glisan St., since March 10, Temple says. When asked if the company felt it important to notify the public, he said it was following guidelines set forth by local health officials.
The company did not tell customers, and no health agency informed the public.
Temple adds Fred Meyer brought in a third-party service to clean the store and launched a program that gives employees diagnosed with or quarantined for COVID-19 two weeks of paid sick leave.
For other employees at the store, paid sick leave hours are accrued, Temple says, meaning some employees may be entitled to paid sick leave if they have symptoms but can't get a test, but others may not.
A COVID-19 case at a grocery store is alarming in part because grocery workers have contact with hundreds of customers and their purchases.
When asked about the Fred Meyer employee during a press conference Thursday afternoon, tri-county public health officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said the county does not necessarily notify the public of specific employment locations of individuals who test positive for COVID-19.
"We know [COVID-19]'s in the community," Vines says. "Stigmatizing one location is not good health practice."
United Food and Commercial Workers secretary-treasurer Jeff Anderson says he's aware of the case, and tells WW his union is lobbying to get grocery employees recognized as "first responders" and therefore eligible for masks and gloves.
"We are rapidly moving to get immediate action to get gloves and face masks to retail workers who will be asked to stay to keep food supplies going while others may shelter in place," Anderson tells WW.
A cashier at the Fred Meyer location, who asked to remain anonymous because she fears she would lose her job if identified, says she has stayed home from work since Sunday, March 15, when she first learned of the diagnosis.
"As soon as I heard someone tested positive, I was like, OK, I'm not going to go in for a while," the cashier tells WW. "I could be carrying it and I don't even know it, and I could be passing it to everybody in the store. And these are people's grandparents and aunts and uncles."
She says she had already used up her 40 hours of paid sick leave before the pandemic, and now she is staying home from work unpaid.