Employees at a Walmart and a Goodwill store in Colorado Springs have tested positive for coronavirus, El Paso County Public Health and store officials announced Monday. 

The county health department issued a news release to notify customers of the Walmart at 1575 Space Center Dr. about the outbreak. Several employees tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, officials said in the release.

The last day one of the infected employees worked was May 13, county health information officer Michelle Hewitt said in an email Monday. Customers who visited the eastern Colorado Springs store between May 8 and 13 potentially could have been exposed to the virus.

"However, it is important to remember that an exposure to COVID-19 is defined as being within 6 feet of someone for more than 10 minutes," Hewitt said.

With regular cleaning and the safety precautions Walmart has in place, such as the use of face masks, social distancing, one-way directional shopping and sneeze guards, Hewitt said the risk to Walmart shoppers from any infectious employees is very low.

The three infected employees are currently self-isolating at home and there is no ongoing risk of exposure to Wal-Mart shoppers from these individuals, Hewitt said.

The Goodwill store and donation center at 4158 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. was temporarily closed for cleaning Monday after three of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to a joint news release by Goodwill and El Paso County Public Health. 

"Goodwill is working with El Paso County Public Health to conduct an investigation of the situation and working with store employees who may have been exposed to the three positive cases," according to the release.

The store will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before reopening, Goodwill Colorado spokesman Bradd Hafer said. Other Goodwill locations will remain open.

The Austin Bluffs store was limiting the number of customers allowed inside to allow for proper social distancing and to mitigate overcrowding before the outbreak, Hafer said.

"When an outbreak is first suspected, there is much work that goes into verification that the cases in question did not become exposed at another shared location (i.e. they are not household members, did not have dinner at each other’s house, etc.), but in fact at that facility," Hewitt said.

The store, along with many other nonessential retail outlets across the state, was permitted to fully reopen, with precautions, on May 1 under the governor's Safer-at-Home order.

Decals were placed on the store’s floor to direct customers to stand six feet apart from each other and signs were posted to direct shoppers to go one way down aisles to avoid congestion, Hafer said. Other measures included plexiglass installed at checkout stands to separate customers from cashiers, frequent sanitation of “high-touch areas,” closing fitting rooms, and temporarily prohibiting food and beverages from the store’s Books & Brew area.

Additionally a designated staff member conducted a health screening, including temperature checks, of each employee before they clocked in for their shift, Hafer said. A fever is one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

“If they don’t pass those screenings, they would be sent home summarily to make sure they are not running the risk of infecting other staff or customers in the store for that day,” he said of employees.

Masks and gloves are “absolutely mandatory” for retail staff and those working at donation centers, Hafer said. Managers on the floor monitor the stores to make sure employees are complying with safety measures, he said.

Jenny Holen, a Goodwill employee at the Austin Bluffs store, told her supervisors that she felt unsafe working after she saw several of her coworkers without a mask and ignoring social distancing in the breakroom, her husband, Jason Holden, said.

Management encouraged an employee, who later tested positive, to report to work when she had a sore throat and cough, Jenny Holden told her husband. The employee allegedly was advised to continue working because she didn’t have a fever, Jason Holden said.

“My first reaction when (my wife) called me was, ‘Quit, walk out now.’ I don’t want her going back there,” Jason Holden said.

Staff sent Jenny Holden home May 5 and gave her a 30-day unpaid leave of absence, her husband said.

Hafer said he was not aware of employees not wearing masks or not complying with safety measures at the Austin Bluffs store.

“If that is ever identified by a store manager or a supervisor or an authority there, they would immediately be called into the office and reprimanded and made sure that they were complying with those measures and explained the severity of keeping those safety measures in place,” he said.

Any notification of employees not following the safety measures, even those made on social media, are brought to the attention of the supervisor of each store for them to investigate, he said.

As of Monday, no new cases were reported at the store, El Paso County Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Hewitt said.

“They’ve done a really good job of proactively choosing to close down a little bit and do a really thorough cleaning and disinfecting,” she said.

“The message we want people to remember, is that as we are easing some of these restrictions and as we open more businesses, it is really more important than ever that people wear face coverings when out in public and still practice that good social distancing, keeping six feet apart, and make sure to wash your hands frequently,” Hewitt said.

A Kroger employee at a King Soopers in Denver died from the coronavirus, CBS4 reported Monday. The union representing grocery workers said Randy Narvaez worked at the 9th Avenue and Downing Street store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

There are 12 known cases of COVID-19 among employees at the King Soopers where Narvaez worked, according to the Denver news station.

Colorado's state health department has reported 228 outbreaks, defined as two or more positive cases at a single location, in 14 days.

The Gazette's Leslie James contributed to this article.


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