Local Walmart store, distribution center take virus precautions

Associates at the Walmart store and distribution center in Seymour have been made aware of co-workers testing positive for COVID-19.

The number of employees and any other specifics, however, aren’t being released to protect their privacy.

Casey Staheli, senior manager of national media relations and corporate communications for Walmart, said the local health department would have to confirm the cases.

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“Rest assured we are taking all measures necessary to ensure the well-being of those inside our stores, fulfillment centers and distribution centers,” he said.

Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator for the Jackson County Health Department, said if they are notified by a testing facility of a positive case at a local employer, the employer is contacted so they can start contact tracing.

From there, it’s up to the employer to release information to the public or not. It’s not the health department’s place to do that and it’s also a HIPAA violation, she said.

“We not only respect the privacy of the individual but the businesses, too,” Montgomery said.

When a Walmart facility has an employee test positive for the virus, Staheli said they work with the associate and offer guidance and time needed to receive medical care.

“Associates have been encouraged to prioritize their health and stay home if feeling sick,” he said. “We also implemented a COVID-19 emergency leave policy for all associates who feel unable or uncomfortable coming to work.”

The policy, which recently was extended through the end of this month, has three different circumstances:

If an associate determines they are unable to work or are uncomfortable at work, they can choose to stay home. In order to be paid, they can use regular paid time off options.

If a store, club, office or distribution center is part of a mandated quarantine or if an associate is required to quarantine by a government agency or by Walmart, they will receive up to two weeks of pay, and absences during that time will not count against attendance. Two weeks matches the recommended time for quarantines related to the virus.

Should an associate have a confirmed case of the virus, they will receive up to two weeks of pay. If they are not able to return to work after that time, additional pay replacement may be provided for up to 26 weeks for both full-time and part-time hourly associates.

As cases occur at Walmart facilities, Staheli said precautions and actions are taken to ensure the well-being of associates, customers and members, following protocols from health experts and relevant federal and state agencies. They have been in close communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations to put plans and procedures in place.

“We have been working to ensure our stores are cleaned and sanitized regularly,” he said. “We are focused on serving our customers and keeping our associates safe during this unprecedented time, and we’ve implemented several measures intended to help bring peace of mind.”

The measures include enacting deep-cleaning and sanitizing protocols with guidance from the CDC and Walmart’s chief medical officer and conducting health screenings and temperature checks on associates prior to them beginning their shifts.

Should an associate have a fever (100 degrees or higher) or answer “yes” to a screening questionnaire, he or she will be asked to return home until symptoms subside or they go through necessary COVID-19 protocols, Staheli said.

Associates also are required to wear masks or other face coverings, while customers are encouraged to do so while shopping.

“Although most state and local governments do not mandate the use of face coverings in public settings, the CDC has reported that recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with the virus lack symptoms and can transmit the virus,” according to a letter to associates. “With this knowledge, we believe it is simply in everyone’s best interest to use masks or face coverings to curb the spread of this disease.”

Other precautions taken at stores include limiting the number of customers who can be inside at the same time, installing plexiglass barriers at checkout lanes and pharmacy areas, installing floor decals at entrances and checkout lanes to remind people to stay 6 feet apart and adjusting operating hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to help associates restock shelves while continuing to clean and sanitize the store.

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To learn how Walmart is responding to COVID-19, visit corporate.walmart.com/here-for-you.