SAN ANTONIO – Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in Texas, some major grocery chains are saying they will not disclose infections among staff.
Walmart and Target told KSAT.com they will not release a positive employee’s store location, date of positive result or date last worked, citing the worker’s personal safety and privacy. Costco has not responded to requests for comment by KSAT.com.
San Antonio-based grocery giant H-E-B has made public cases at dozens of stores, including details about when the employee was last in the store, on its website.
Walmart — the largest private employer in the nation — said it has seen cases in “some” stores across the country, but leaves confirmations up to local health officials.
Target made similar comments, adding that when a positive case arises, they inform team members of the infection and deep clean the store.
“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,” according to a statement from the Minneapolis-based company sent to KSAT.
Both chains said they have taken steps to help stunt the spread of the virus inside facilities, such as implementing cleaning protocols, installing plexiglass barriers and requiring health screenings and temperature checks for employees.
“We have processes in place to inform associates,” Walmart spokesperson Rebecca Thomason said. “Associates have been encouraged to prioritize their health and stay home if feeling sick.”
Deemed essential businesses, the nation’s nearly 400,000 grocery stores remained open throughout the pandemic. More than 3 million employees worked at the frontlines of consumer demand as the virus seemingly halted everyday life and forced people indoors.
Government officials told the D.C. newspaper that miscommunication between corporations and local health districts has remained an issue throughout the crisis.
It’s an issue of being transparent while protecting employees, the report states.
Certain businesses in the San Antonio area have openly stated their employees have tested positive.
Forty H-E-B stores have had employees test positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon, store officials say. The grocery chain includes each new case on each store’s webpage in an effort to be transparent with customers, H-E-B states.
“H-E-B’s daily focus is the health and safety of our partners and customers,” the company said in a statement. “Transparency is important; our first priority is constant communication to our Partners and for our customers, they can visit their store’s website to see when a confirmed positive Partner last worked in their store.
“H-E-B is aggressive with constant sanitization, social distancing and mask wearing.”
No requirement for employers to disclose cases
Dr. Anita Kurian, Metropolitan Health District assistant director, said the department does not track cases by job, and employers are not required to disclose COVID-19 cases.
“Metro Health notifies close contacts of a case regarding their exposure at a particular location, but we do not track cases by a person’s occupation,” she said.
Kurian said protocol may change if a large exposure occurs and health officials cannot track or verify the source. She added that Metro Health recommends businesses let their employees know of any positive cases, although that is not a requirement.
Lyndsey Rosales, a spokesperson for the state health department, said DSHS does not track cases by occupation but is notified when an outbreak occurs, such as those in meatpacking plants and nursing homes.
She added COVID-19 case report forms ask about occupation, but the question often goes unanswered.
“Any information provided to the public would come from the business, should they choose to do so, or in certain circumstances, the local health department,” she said.
If there’s a general concern for public safety, if an investigation determines that people may have been exposed at the business, then DSHS may choose to share that information.
On Wednesday, H-E-B announced they would require all customers again to wear masks while in its Bexar County stores. The announcement came on the heels of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issuing an executive order Wednesday that mandates face coverings at all businesses where social distancing is not possible. Individuals would not be fined under this order, but any businesses caught in violation of the order would be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.