Three Walmarts close after coronavirus hits employees

Walmart told FOX Business it is 'following the evolving guidance of public health experts'

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Three Walmart stores in Quincy, Avon and Abington, Massachusetts have temporarily closed after a number of employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Massachusetts is suffering from a high rate of coronavirus cases, and several of our stores located in some of the state’s hot spots have also been hit hard by the pandemic," Walmart said in a statement to FOX Business. "It may be impossible to track the source of anyone's infection, especially in some of these communities that have felt the devastating impact of the virus. That's why we are working in partnership with local health officials and are taking aggressive steps to help ensure the safety of our associates and customers."

Walmart says it has temporarily closed the stores to conduct employee coronavirus testing and for "additional cleaning and third-party sanitizing." According to the company, store associates that have tested positive are using paid leave options as they recover.

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"Sadly, we have also had associates pass away, and we feel their loss deeply," the company added.

Men wearing protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic exit a Walmart, May 6, 2020, in Walpole, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The Quincy Board of Health said 85 of about 212 of the Walmart employees have been tested. Of those, 27 tested positive for the virus and one person has died. Both Avon and Abington stores closed down on May 6, according to the Avon Board of Health. Abington's location is shutting down for the second time.

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The news of the closures follows a coronavirus outbreak at a Walmart in Worcester which had 81 of its employees test positive. The store closed on April 29 but has since reopened for business as of May 5, according to a statement from the city of Worcester.

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"A city inspection of the store [on May 4] revealed that all benchmarks that were ordered have been met," the city said in its statement.

Benchmarks included a deep cleaning of the store by a third party vendor, testing of all Walmart employees, and proper signage with policies in place to address the need for PPE and social distancing.

"Periodic, unannounced inspections should be expected," the city added. "Walmart must also report any new or suspected cases of COVID-19 to [the city department of public health] immediately."

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Walmart's coronavirus situation in Massachusetts has caught the attention of former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as well as other 11 other House and Senate Democrats from the state, who sent a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on Thursday.

"We are writing to express serious concern about your company's failure to keep Walmart employees in Massachusetts safe amidst the coronavirus," the letter read. “These outbreaks occurred in the context of multiple worker-reported safety concerns at Walmart stores."

According to a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, Walmart workers — including in Massachusetts — have said the retailer is not regularly informing employees when a co-worker is diagnosed, not closing stores for cleaning and disinfecting after coronavirus diagnoses and exposures, not enforcing social distancing in stores that can have up to 900 customers in them at a time, and not providing sufficient paid sick leave.

Democrats also raised concerns about recent comments by McMillon that providing hazard pay to Walmart employees during this pandemic "diminishes why our people are coming to work," and that workers are "coming to work because they want to serve."

"These employees serve their communities in many ways, and their work at Walmart is their job, not a charitable contribution to the company's bottom line," Democrats said.

The members are giving Walmart until May 21 to provide answers on what changes the company will make to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

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Walmart told FOX Business that it is "following the evolving guidance of public health experts."

Safety measures the company has taken in its stores include mandatory facial covering and making masks and gloves available for all associates and making masks and gloves available for all associates, limiting the hours and number of customers in stores and clubs, deep cleaning facilities, temperature checks and health screenings of associates, installing plexiglass guards and implementing social distancing measures in all facilities.

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"We will continue to be proactive in our approach to health and safety," the company added. "We also urge our customers to follow social distancing recommendations and wear masks and other facial coverings. We understand the critical role our associates are playing in ensuring that communities continue to have access to fresh food, medicine and critical supplies during this crisis.”