As coronavirus spreads, grocers fail to keep shelves stocked

'Stores, facilities, plants and offices are busier than ever,' Kroger CEO says

Grocery stores across the country are failing to keep up with customers who are emptying their shelves, while employees face a growing risk of coronavirus infection.

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In a memo to employees on Saturday, Kroger Chairman & CEO Rodney McMullen said "stores, facilities, plants and offices are busier than ever before." He also told employees that two Kroger associates in Washington state have tested positive for COVID-19.

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"Both Associates are receiving medical care and are recovering. We are supporting them and wish them all the best in their recovery," McMullen wrote.

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Shoppers wear masks as they exit a Costco warehouse Saturday, in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

McMullen noted that associates affected by the virus will receive standard pay for up to two weeks, with the possibility of additional paid time off should employees be unable to return to work after 14 days.

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"Upon learning of these cases, we partnered with state and local health experts, followed all sanitation and cleaning procedures, communicated with and supported our store teams, and with the support of the state governments, the stores remain open," he added.

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Shoppers wait to enter a Costco warehouse Saturday, in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Retailers are shortening their hours so that workers have the chance to clean and restock shelves.

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Walmart, the nation's largest retailer and private employer, said late Saturday it is limiting hours to ensure stores can keep sought-after items such as hand sanitizer in stock.

Tina Enriquez, center, and Debbie Sawa load their vehicle after shopping outside a Costco warehouse Saturday, in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Beginning Sunday, more than 4,700 Walmart and Neighborhood Market locations in the U.S. will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 pm. until further notice. Most super center stores are typically open 24 hours while some Neighborhood stores are as well.

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“I don’t think any of us have been through an experience like this, and we continue to be amazed at what people, whether in the stores or in the supply chain, are doing to make sure customers have what they need,” Dacona Smith, chief operating officer, said in a statement.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.