As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, Walmart has temporarily closed some stores as well as an e-commerce fulfillment center where workers have turned up sick, the retailer said in an update to employees.
Doug McMillon, CEO of the Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter, said worker illnesses at Walmart are in line with national rates per capita, with less than 1% of the workforce having confirmed cases. “We must stay vigilant,” McMillon said. “We have lost some associates, and that is obviously painful. We’re supporting the loved ones of our associates, and our hearts go out to them.”
The message underscores the fine line food retailers have walked as they continue to operate under emergency conditions, staying open to serve shoppers while enacting operations changes meant to enhance social distancing to tramp down transmission of the deadly virus. As previously reported, Walmart has begun taking worker temperatures as they report for work and is enforcing capacity limits and traffic in stores by implanting “one-way aisles” and marking floors to remind shoppers to keep their distance.
Reports said three stores in the New Orleans area closed April 9 and were scheduled to reopen April 10 in a move the company said would allow “third-party specialists to further sanitize the store[s].” Last week the retailer shut down a fulfillment center in Bethlehem, Pa., after nine workers there were diagnosed with the coronavirus.
“As we operate in locations with more cases, we may temporarily close facilities as we’ve done with an e-commerce fulfillment center and a few stores so far,” McMillon added. “We’ll also keep hiring new associates to help you. In the last few weeks, we’ve hired more than 100,000 people to help support you and share in the work. We need to work together to avoid fatigue.”
McMillon also urged workers to take seriously the retailer’s warnings about social distancing and revamped preventative health measures.
“Do your best to practice social distancing on the sales floor, in the break rooms—everywhere,” he said. “Please support decisions like the one to take our temperatures. If you choose to use the masks or gloves we’ve made available, do so properly. Keep washing your hands frequently, as recommended. We’ll keep making decisions related to limiting customers, placing distancing reminders on the floor and putting up sneeze guards as we’re doing in the pharmacies and at the checkouts.