While many of us remain vigilant, wiping our groceries, paying for delivery or organizing pickups, food workers at SoCal’s supermarkets are getting hit harder than ever by COVID-19.
Data shows outbreaks at more than 137 Los Angeles area supermarkets in November and December, with at least 854 workers in LA County testing positive for the virus.
According to NBC Los Angeles, there are so many cases that LA County Public Health Department is investigating.
"It's basically spiraling out of control," Kathy Finn of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 tells NBC LA. "We have so many cases, so many cases. More than at any other time in the pandemic."
NBC LA’s I-Team discovered outbreaks at 48 LA County Ralphs, 24 Vons, seven Albertsons and six Pavilions – with more recent outbreaks at three Trader Joe's and at two Whole Foods stores.
"We're no longer able to investigate every single outbreak," says DPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
Many of the store employees say they contracted the virus at work.
"It's so busy in the stores and there's so many people, we were bound to get it," Bertha Montes, a bakery worker at the Ralphs on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, who is battling COVID-19, tells NBC.
Montes says she believes she also transmitted the virus to her husband, daughter and grandson -- all who live with her.
"I felt so guilty," Montes told the I-Team.
Albertsons provided a statement about the outbreak to the I-team.
Albertsons and Vons are doing everything we can to prioritize the health and safety of our associates, customers, and communities and to ensure our customers have access to the food, medications, and other essential goods they need at this critical time. We recently installed kiosks to conduct health screening and temperature checks to check for COVID symptoms before associates begin their shift.
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).
In addition, our stores have taken many precautions, including:
· Installing Plexiglas sneeze guards at check stands.
· Placing social distancing posters and floor markers in the stores.
· Pausing self-service operations like soup bars, wing bars, and salad bars.
· Enhancing measures to clean and disinfect all departments, restrooms, and other high touchpoints of the store throughout the day.
· Making cart wipes and hand sanitizer stations available at key locations within the store for customers' convenience.
· Ensuring that store associates can wash their hands at least one time per hour and stay home if they feel sick.
· Reserving special times for seniors and other vulnerable shoppers who must leave home to obtain their groceries. We ask our non-senior and non-at-risk customers to avoid shopping at these times.
We cannot express enough gratitude for our associates' dedication and commitment during this unprecedented time, as they work to support their neighbors and provide essential service to our communities.