Moulton says grocery store workers should receive emergency personnel designation

It would allow workers access to personal protective equipment and priority testing for the coronavirus if they develop symptoms

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA, says the state should designate grocery store workers as emergency personnel.

The designation would protect workers in the food supply chain by making them eligible for personal protective equipment and priority testing if they suspect they have contracted COVID-19, Moulton said in a statement this week.

Moulton sent a letter dated April 8 to Gov. Charlie Baker asking for the designation.

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The letter comes after Moulton’s constituent, Vitalina Williams, a 59-year-old part-time cashier at Market Basket in Salem and a full-time employee at Walmart in Lynn, died from COVID-19.

Moulton also asked the governor to use the recently-announced contact tracing program run by Partners in Health to identify other people who might be at risk in the community.

On March 16, Moulton called on the president to protect Americans by using his Defense Production Act powers to direct the private sector to create more personal protective equipment for health care workers, first responders and employees at essential companies. The shortage of personal protective equipment persists today.

Read the full letter below.

Dear Governor Baker,

I write today to respectfully request your office take action to temporarily designate our valiant supermarket employees as emergency personnel. In light of the first documented death of a grocery store worker in Salem, I urge you to take additional steps to protect these workers and the health of all Massachusetts residents by temporarily designating emergency personnel status to food supply employees.

I appreciate the actions you’ve taken so far to protect workers on the frontlines of this crisis, including food supply employees. I was pleased to see your office produced occupancy guidelines to further protect employees and patrons and that you’ve recognized the importance of these employees when your office extended child care to grocery store workers. I encourage you to also expand their health protections.

I have heard from constituents who work at grocery stores that they fear contracting the virus due to their increased, but unavoidable, exposure to the public. These employees face a difficult decision: leave their jobs to protect their own health and safety, or show up to work so that we all can eat.

Temporary designation of emergency personnel status would help ensure that our grocery and food supply workers are able to make that choice knowing that the necessary precautions are in place. This designation would provide them access to priority testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, as well other workplace protections necessary to keep them and the general public safe and healthy.

I recognize that there is already a shortage of PPE and testing across the Commonwealth. I urge you to prioritize food supply workers in PPE and testing distribution while continuing to get critical supplies to our healthcare workers and first responders. All of these groups are essential in maintaining the health of our communities. Grocery store workers are vital to ensuring that our constituents continue to have access to the products they need to feed and care for their families.

Additionally, I recommend that the state apply its new contact tracing methodology to the case reported of a constituent who worked at the Salem Market Basket. As a grocery store worker, this individual had substantial contact with the public and a targeted assessment of her interactions with customers is critical. In order to protect the health of the workers at the Salem Market Basket, and the residents of Salem and the surrounding communities that shop at this location, we must use the tools available to understand the scope of the outbreak stemming from this one location.

Thank you for your continued leadership during this incredibly challenging time. I appreciate your timely consideration of my request.


Seth Moulton

Member of Congress