Speed Reads

the coronavirus crisis

COVID-19 is starting to take a deadly toll on grocery store workers

States and local governments have a patchwork of social distancing rules to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but all of them include supermarkets and grocery stores in the list of essential services exempt from closure. Now, "major supermarket chains are beginning to report their first coronavirus-related employee deaths, leading to store closures and increasing anxiety among grocery workers as the pandemic intensifies across the country," The Washington Post reports.

Grocery stores are looking to hire thousands of temporary workers to meet the sharp rise in demand from homebound customers, and even with the promise of hardship pay, gloves, make, and hand sanitizer, the deaths will likely give pause to potential hires. "One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to," supermarket analyst Phil Lempert told the Post. "We're going to start seeing people say, 'I'll just stay unemployed instead of risking my life for a temporary job.'"

The Post confirmed four deaths as of Monday: A Trader Joe's employee in Scarsdale, New York; two Walmart workers at the same store in Evergreen Park, Illinois, outside Chicago, in late March; and a 27-year-old greeter at a Giant supermarket in Largo, Maryland, who died last week. The Giant greeter, Leilani Jordan, "said, 'Mommy, I'm going to work because no one else is going to help the senior citizens get their groceries,'" her mother, Zenobia Shepherd, told the Post. "She only stopped going to work when she could no longer breathe."

In theory, a pandemic that forces people to stay home and threatens grocery store workers who have to interact with hundreds of customers is "the perfect moment for online grocery services," The Associated Press reports. "In practice, they've been struggling to keep up with a surge in orders, highlighting their limited ability to respond to an unprecedented onslaught of demand."