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Another Whole Foods Employee in SF Tests Positive for Coronavirus

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A Whole Foods employee at the store on Market and Dolores Street has tested positive for COVID- 19. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated Thursday at 7:15 p.m.

A worker at a Whole Foods Market location on Market Street in San Francisco has been diagnosed with COVID-19, a company spokesperson confirmed to KQED on Thursday.

The diagnosis marks at least the second confirmed case of a Whole Foods employee in San Francisco coming down with the coronavirus. A worker at the grocery chain's Stanyan Street location previously tested positive in March. Both stores remain open.

In an emailed statement, the Whole Foods spokesperson said the infected worker at the Market Street location is in quarantine and that the company is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local health and food safety officials.

The Market Street store performed an additional deep cleaning and disinfection on top of enhanced sanitation measures implemented at all stores during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the spokesperson. It's the same protocol taken after the Stanyan Street location worker tested positive.

Whole Foods stores across the nation with employees who have confirmed COVID-19 cases have also stayed open to customers after performing additional disinfections and deep cleanings, including in Huntington BeachChicago and Houston.

SF whole foods: first confirmed case

An Employee's Mother: 'Now It Hit Home'

The mother of a Market Street store worker said her son was notified about the case at work on Wednesday, and that the store closed early to be cleaned that evening. KQED granted a request for anonymity made by the mother and son due to their concerns that the son's job could be in jeopardy.

“Now it hit home," she said. "Now that it actually has shown up at his store, it seems like upper-management isn't really thinking about the best interest of my child or his coworkers."

Whole Foods gives two weeks of paid time off to workers that test positive for COVID-19. Employees can also get two weeks of pay if they isolate after contact with a confirmed case – but only if the self-quarantine is recommended by Whole Foods or a health care professional, a Whole Foods spokesperson said.

"The majority of the people who work at Whole Foods live paycheck to paycheck," the worker's mother said. "If they became ill, two weeks of pay is not going to cover it. Many of them would be facing bankruptcy and worse."

She said her son doesn’t know if he had contact with the confirmed case because management did not reveal any information about the employee, so her son is continuing to show up for his shifts.

"I'm worried that they aren't being given all of the information required to truly make an informed decision about whether they risk continuing their employment there," she said.

In light of the coronavirus crisis, the company has implemented enhanced sanitation measures and a relaxed worker attendance policy, and has begun paying employees $2 more per hour. The week following the announcement of the Stanyan Street case in San Francisco, the company rolled out daily temperature screenings for their workers and Amazon Prime Now shoppers across the country.

Whole Worker, an advocacy group that describes itself as a "grassroots movement" of Whole Foods team members working to unionize, said the measures taken by the Amazon-owned company aren’t sufficient. The group spearheaded a nationwide sickout on March 31 to demand paid leave for all workers who self-quarantine, hazard pay of double wages while the crisis continues and the immediate shutdown of any store where a worker tests positive for the coronavirus.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district covers the Market Street location, said he's concerned for the safety of the Whole Foods workers, as well as all essential workers during this time.

"While many of us are able to shelter at home and are doing everything we can to avoid putting ourselves at risk, there are so many people who are not able to do that, who are essential workers and are out every day doing the things that need to be done ... that we need to survive," he said. "And we all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude."

Mandelman said he's seen the social distancing efforts the Market Street location has implemented, but he isn't familiar with the particular steps the store has taken to protect its employees since the confirmed case was announced.

"I will say that Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, is one of the largest and most powerful corporations on the planet with hundreds of thousands of employees," Mandelman added. "And I would feel much more confident that every step had been taken to protect the health of the Whole Foods employees if those employees had been allowed to organize and unionize."

This post will be updated.


Resources for Workers and Shoppers

How to File for Unemployment

If you are a worker who is sick with what appears to be COVID-19, or you are caring for someone who is sick from the coronavirus, you may be eligible for paid time off, disability insurance or family and medical leave if the business you work for has less than 500 and more than 50 employees. You can apply here at the Employment Development Department website, although they admit that they are still waiting for more details from the federal government.

Specific policies instituted as a result of the coronavirus can be seen here (also available in Spanish). The department is providing workers and caregivers various options to collect payment. Learn more here.

You should also seek legal counsel for advice on how to communicate with your employer about coronavirus. Here is a list of pro bono employment lawyers in California.

How Long Should You Isolate Yourself if You Test Positive for COVID-19?

Guidelines for how long to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 are changing rapidly, so it's important to seek out the most up-to-date information, according to Dr. Sajan Patel of UCSF. When you do, he says, refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Here are two routes to take when wondering when to end home isolation.

How to Buy Groceries Safely and Efficiently

During the statewide shelter-in-place order, grocery stores are among the few places shoppers can go to stock their pantries. But empty shelves, large gatherings of people and reports of sick employees are a major issue of concern for shoppers and health officials alike. Here are some precautions you can take.


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