Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and employer of 1.4 million hourly workers, on Tuesday announced its first incident of a store associate testing positive for the coronavirus. The employee, who works at a Walmart store in Cynthiana, Ky., was the first to test positive in the state of Kentucky and is receiving medical care and her condition is improving, according to an internal company memo. As of Tuesday afternoon, six cases of the virus have been diagnosed in Kentucky.
In a statement, the Bentonville, Ark.-based operator of more than 5,000 stores in the United States said it has “reinforced our cleaning and sanitizing protocol, and, with the support and encouragement of the state government, the [Kentucky] store remains open.”
Walmart also announced that it is deploying an emergency employee leave program, saying that associates will receive up to two weeks pay if they have to be quarantined or are diagnosed with the illness. If store, warehouse club or distribution center employees are not able to return to work after two weeks, up to 26 weeks of additional pay could be provided for both full- and part-time workers. The policy covers both Walmart and Sam's Club workers no matter when they were hired, according to the company.
In addition, Walmart will allow employees to stay home if they are unable to work or feel “uncomfortable” at work, by waiving its attendance policy through the end of April. While the normal attendance policy will not be enforced in this circumstance, in order to have the leave paid, associates must use their regular paid time-off options.
“We have been communicating with our associates, stressing the importance of staying home if they are not feeling well and encouraging our associates to seek medical care immediately if they have any signs or symptoms,” the company said.
Walmart will continue to “take any and all measures necessary to ensure the well-being of our associates, customers and members,” according to the retailer’s statement.
Target ramps up cleaning protocols
Walmart’s announcement Tuesday followed an earlier statement by Target Corp., the Minneapolis-based mass retailer, addressing its store policies in regard to the coronavirus. President and CEO Brian Cornell said that Target would be adding hours to each store’s payroll to make cleaning routines even more rigorous.
“This means more time will be spent cleaning our stores, including cleaning surfaces like check lanes and touchscreens at least every 30 minutes,” he said.
Target is also staffing up its teams to support in-demand services like Order Pickup and Drive Up.
Cornell also reiterated the company’s commitments to its associates. “For weeks, we’ve provided them with up-to-the-moment guidance and information so they can keep themselves and their families safe,” he said. “We’re encouraging sick team members to stay home and asking our teams to travel only if it’s business-critical. And, to help support our team in real-time, we’ve set up a forum where we’re sharing information and taking questions 24/7.”
The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to dozens of countries globally with more than 4,090 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Centers for Disease Control reported as of Tuesday afternoon, 647 cases in the United States with 25 deaths in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
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