BOSTON — If stores or large workplaces have employees who test positive for the coronavirus, do they have an obligation to notify workers and the public? Should they temporarily close?
Massachusetts Attorney Maura Healey says yes.
While large retailers like Whole Foods and Amazon have filled a void during the shutdown and continued to operate as “essential” businesses for much-needed supplies, Healey says her office has received a number of complaints from customers and workers about the lack of personal protective equipment and social distancing measures in some stores and distribution centers.
“If you’re a major company like Amazon, right now you are continuing to see enormous profits during this time,” said Healey, “you better make sure you’re doing right by your workers and protecting them.”
In April a 53-year-old chef at the Whole Foods in Swampscott died after contracting COVID-19, and in May, a Lynnfield Whole Foods store disclosed that it had known about multiple workers testing positive for the virus over several weeks but never alerted the public until the store had to temporarily close on May 10.
Though local boards of health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have the authority to order stores to close, Healey says stores need to disclose the information when they get it. She’s among a group of 13 attorneys general calling on Amazon and Whole Foods to better protect their workers during this public health emergency.
She called the Lynnfield Whole Foods situation “outrageous,” saying “there’s no way the company should have sat on that information for as long as they did,” which put a lot of people at potential risk of catching the virus. She’s calling on grocery stores and other businesses to raise the alarm as soon as they are aware of workers who have been in their facilities become sick with COVID-19.
In a letter to Amazon and Whole Foods, the AGs called on the companies to:
- Disclose how many workers have been infected with the virus and if any have died.
- Reveal policies - if any - for notifying consumers and public health authorities of sick workers and any employees who have died.
- Prove that workers are getting adequate PPE, hand sanitizer and ensure social distancing practices are in place
Healey said she understands there might be some stigma associated with alerting consumers that workers have contracted the virus, but said “it’s far worse if you let it get to a point where you have to close your entire store - or, worse - a number of people get sick,” and die.
The letter also asks Whole Foods for written updates about the AGs demands along with assurances that workers won’t face retaliation for raising concerns.
Boston 25 News reached out to Whole Foods for comment but has not received a reply.
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