About 20% of grocery store workers had Covid-19, and most didn’t have symptoms, study found

These workers likely became a “significant transmission source” for Covid-19 without even knowing it because most in the study were asymptomatic.

The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is the first to demonstrate the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks and psychological distress grocery workers have felt during the pandemic.

In the study, 20% of the 104 grocery workers tested at a store in Boston in May had positive nasal swab tests.

This was a significantly higher rate of infection than what was seen in the surrounding communities, the researchers said. Workers who dealt with customers were five times as likely to test positive for Covid-19 as colleagues in other positions.

But three out of four of those who tested positive had no symptoms.

“We were definitely surprised to see that there were that many people that were asymptomatic,” said Dr. Justin Yang, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health who worked on the study. “This is definitely very alarming as it means that retail grocery store employees are exposed to customers and sort of serve as a middleman for the virus – like a super spreader almost.”
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Workers in the study had tried to take precautions. Nearly all, 91%, said they wore a face mask at work and 77% said they also wore masks outside of work. Yet only about 66% said they were able to practice social distancing consistently on the job.

This inability to social distance had an emotional, as well as a physical impact. Nearly a quarter of the people in customer service jobs said they had problems with anxiety and depression compared to 8% of workers who did not have to interact with customers. Employees who commuted to work by bike, car or by walking were less likely to experience depression than those who used public transportation, the study found.

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“If you are in an environment when you’re literally in front of a customer, you can’t be more than six feet and that is really stressful for essential employees,” Yang said.

At least 108 grocery workers have died and more than 16,300 have been infected or exposed to Covid-19, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, said Thursday. The union represents 1.3 million employees.

The rates of infection among the workers in this study do seem high, Yang said. By comparison, an earlier study of Covid-19 infections among Dutch health care workers found the infection rate was about 10%.
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Yang said he hopes this study prompts the government and store owners to provide better guidance, routine testing and protection for grocery store workers.

There has been a national movement to designate grocery workers as first responders which would give them priority access to testing and personal protective equipment.

In an editorial for CNN in August, Marc Perrone, the President of UFCW and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris argued that grocery workers should also get hazard pay.
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Former downtown London fitness studio to become city’s first ‘zero waste’ grocery store

London’s grocery scene will be a little greener in November with the opening of the city’s first and only “zero waste” grocery store in the city’s downtown. 

The couple behind the store is Heenal Rajani and Kara Rijnen, who own Reimagine Co. the city’s first “waste-free” store. Their grocery venture, Reimagine Gorceries, will be located inside a building that once housed a former fitness studio located at 206 Piccadilly Street just off Richmond Row and will be based on a similar philosophy. 

Rajani told CBC News Monday that the store will sell all of its goods in bulk. 

“Rather than just grab a package of rice and throw it into your cart, you’ll actually be able to choose. ‘Will I need this whole kilo of rice or maybe I just need half a kilo?”

“You’re not going to be dictated to based on package size. You can grab as much or as little as you want.” 

He said it means customers will have to remember to bring their own Tupperware, jam jars or reusable bags and if they forget, the store offers its own reusable containers on-site. 

“You can bring containers from home or we’ll have containers there that you can pay a small deposit on.”

“You wash them and bring them back or we sanitize them with a commercial dishwasher, so that way the containers are going to be used 10 to 1,000 times.” 

The store was made possible after Rajani and Rijnen launched a crowdsourcing campaign last month, quickly surpassing their $50,000 goal and increasing it to $75,000. In the end, the couple raised more than $88,000 thanks to the donations of more than 865 supporters. 

Rajani said the 865 people who donated to the cause will be reimbursed once the store opens with the equivalent of their donation as pre-purchased groceries. 

The exact date of the grand opening hasn’t been determined yet because there is still plenty of work to be done on-site to get the store ready, including renovations, permits and installing commercial appliances. 

The only real hitch, Rajani said, is making sure everyone who contributed and anyone who’s curious doesn’t show up all at the same time. 

“What we don’t want is for all 865 people to show up on opening day. That’s not something we would be able to handle, but we will be continuing to communicate through our social media channels to let people know how we’re going to be opening.”

“Maybe it will be a soft opening, where we’ll open for a couple of hours on the first day and gradually bring that up.” he said.

“It’s such a new concept.” 

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Costco employees save dentist who collapsed in Mason store

MASON, Ohio — Dr. Rick Silverman was enjoying a September afternoon off with his wife browsing the electronics department at the Mason Costco store, when tragedy suddenly struck.

“We were walking down the aisle, something caught my eye and then my eyes went dark,” he said.

Silverman, a 55-year-old husband, father and oral surgeon, collapsed in the middle of the store in full cardiac arrest.

Thankfully there were two Costco employees close by who jumped into action so Silverman’s story could be rewritten from one of tragedy to one of survival.

JT Shlotman, who works Costco security, and optometrist Rhonda Baria are two of three Mason Costco employees who are training in CPR. They’re always scheduled to work during the same shift, so when they realized Silverman was in trouble, they grabbed a nearby defibrillator and got to work. Baria had already started chest compressions when Shlotman arrived.

“I noticed her kind of tire a little bit,” Shlotman said. “Someone brought me the AED, got it all set up. Rhonda put the pads on.”

In that moment, Baria said she was determined to do everything she could to save Silverman.

“Just having his wife right there with me the whole time, and I thought I’m not gonna see this go wrong,” Baria said.

Silverman’s wife said she was grateful for the Costco employees, who acted as a polished, well-oiled machine to save her husband’s life.

Silverman now has a machine implanted in his heart that acts like the tiny version of a defibrillator to keep it going. He said medics told him it was the employees’ quick thinking and the use of the AED that ultimately saved his life.

“If they didn’t react with the timing they did and know to use it immediately, I might not be here. I would not be here.” he said. “I feel like I met my guardian angels.”

Silverman and his wife reunited with the employees inside the Costco warehouse and exchanged thank you gifts and socially-distant foot-bumps instead of hugs because of COVID-19.

Silverman joked about Baria being the “one that was on top of him” during the life-saving moments in the store. But joking aside, it’s clear that everyone involved has been changed by what happened, including the employees that stepped in to help.

“I’ve met a few of his patients, his brother.” Shlotman said. “It’s emotional, you don’t really think about it at the time.”

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