WORCESTER (CBS) – The Walmart on Tobias Boland Way in Worcester was closed down by the city Wednesday afternoon after 23 employees tested positive for coronavirus in a three week period.
“A couple of cases [were in] early April, but the bulk of those twenty-three have happened in the last seven days,” Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. said in a news conference.
Initially, the store posted on Facebook saying it intended to close Thursday and reopen Friday after a deep cleaning, but the city set strict guidelines in which all 400 employees at the store have to be tested for the virus before returning to work, which will likely delay the reopening.
Customers who showed up to grocery shop Wednesday night were shocked to find the doors locked. “Well it’s very shocking because I’m always here, so do I have it?” customer Lee Anedu said. “And now I’m like, where can I go get tested? Because I want to make sure [I’m safe].”
The sudden store closure also closed down the Subway inside, which is franchised by Michael Vulcano. “It’s not good,” he told WBZ-TV. “It’s tough…I just invested over $1,000 in sneeze guards, social distancing signs, rearranged the entire dining room…did everything we were supposed to do.”
He said sales were just starting to climb again, but he predicts a closure because of the virus will scare customers away. “People are afraid,” he said. “I mean, you can’t blame them.”
Medical experts said the state’s contact tracing program takes about two weeks to go into effect after someone is diagnosed, so the 20 or so people diagnosed in the last week likely have not had their steps retraced yet.
The store will reopen once it is deep cleaned by a certified third party company and met the city’s requirements.
In a statement, Walmart said they are “working with local officials to ensure we take all the necessary steps before reopening the store.”
— Lisa Gresci (@Lisa_Gresci) April 30, 2020
“It’s important to note that, while there may have been recently confirmed associate cases tied to the store, most of those associates have not been to work in the store the last several days,” the company said. “Separately, the nature of the virus make it nearly impossible to track a source, which is why- as an essential businesses- we are taking proactive measures in our stores to help protect our associates and customers as best as we can.”