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COVID-19 Cases Up Sharply Among Grocery Store, Pharmacy Workers

A testing sign is posted outside of a Chula Vista CVS store, May 21, 2020.

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A testing sign is posted outside of a Chula Vista CVS store, May 21, 2020.

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Cases are rising among the essential workers San Diego depends on to stock its food and medicine.

Aired: January 12, 2021 | Transcript

The union representing workers at Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons, CVS and other “essential” workplaces says a record number of employees are contracting COVID-19.

In November, 82 workers had tested positive for COVID-19. By December, that number exploded to 404. Now, just 11 days into January, 152 cases have been reported. Overall, these have impacted 97 union worksites.

“It’s everywhere. It’s not just South Bay or North County, it’s everywhere,” United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 Chief Todd Walters told KPBS.

Walters said despite the positive tests, workers in these stores have been able to ensure safe working conditions for themselves, despite sometimes lax safety compliance by customers.

RELATED: Here’s Where COVID-19 Outbreaks Have Happened In San Diego County

“We tell members they have the right to remove themselves from an unsafe situation, whether it’s overcrowding, whether it’s someone refusing to wear a face cover,” Walters said.

The union has also been active in making sure that supermarkets are doing their part to limit capacity inside their stores.

But with COVID-19 cases still at staggering highs, and demand high at grocery stores and pharmacies, Walters thinks vaccinations for these workers should be expedited, especially as the county begins to speed up its vaccination program. Grocery store workers are right now in group 1C. The county is currently vaccinating those in group 1A.

“We’re labeled as 1C, so you’ve got the medical first responders first, you’ve got the medical facilities, the long-term care facilities, and the staff second, and people over 75,” Walters explained. “But the problem with that is there is about 10 million people who fall into that category. And so right now there’s a big fight within the state, everybody’s trying to push their group to the top of the list.”

With cases and deaths now at record highs, the vaccines can’t come soon enough for those who provision San Diego. But in the meantime, they’re just going to have to wait, as their number of positive COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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