‘It Honestly Scares Us': Grocery Worker COVID-19 Cases More Than Triple in December

Food workers union reported 82 cases in November. As of Wednesday, there have been 283 cases in December.

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COVID-19 cases among local grocery store workers continue to skyrocket, with cases nearly tripling from November to December.

NBC 7 first reported on the surge among grocery store employees in San Diego and Imperial Counties on Monday. In the two days since, there have been at least 37 more cases reported among workers.

Todd Walters, president of UFCW Local 135, is pleading with shoppers to be especially vigilant and follow all safety protocols.

“We’re seeing clusters in the worksites that I didn’t see in October, November, and September, multiple cases in each store. People have to think and spread out and social distance," Walters said.

According to the food workers union, there were 24 cases among grocery store employees in September. The number of cases increased in October to 30. In November, there were 82 cases.

As of Wednesday, there were 283 cases for the month of December.

Walters says the cases are impacting staffing.

“The stores are struggling right now to keep their schedules full. It’s not so much the people that have COVID, it’s all the people that are being quarantined as a result. This is going to impact us in a big way if we don’t stop and think about what we’re doing,” Walters said.

Anthony Olaiz works at the Albertson’s in Casa De Oro/Spring Valley. There have been five total cases reported at the store, with four of them reported in December.

“It honestly scares us. I’m not going to lie,” Olaiz said.

In an interesting twist, Olaiz works in the U.S., but lives in Tijuana, where restrictions are much tougher for customers who enter grocery stores.

“No elderly people, no children when it comes to entering the store,” Olaiz said. “Only one family member per family and they definitely take your temperature and give you anti-bacterial gel.”

It’s not clear how those restrictions have impacted grocery stores in Tijuana, no data has been made available.

Earlier in the year, some stores in the U.S. took temperatures of customers, but that no longer happens.

And while most grocery stores have plexi-glass barriers and provide sanitation gel, Walters feels stores could be doing more to protect employees and customers.

“It’s all about profits right now. Taking temperatures or watching the front door is going to slow down the sales. Nobody wants to wait in line, I get it, but it has to be safety over profits,” Walters said.

In an email to NBC 7, a spokesperson for Albertson’s says the store is working to be proactive.

“We are in the process of installing contactless Health Screening kiosks in all of our stores.  Prior to the kiosk, we were manually taking employee temperatures. We are also installing line queuing technology for customers at checkout to help customers maintain physical distancing and increase the efficiency at checkout (quicker checkout times),” said Melissa Hill, Albertson’s Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations

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