Lowe’s home improvement store in Lewes has confirmed a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 in early April.
The employee was placed on paid leave, and associates who had contact with or worked with the individual were also put on paid leave, said spokesman Pedro Chan. He said the store remained open and was extensively cleaned in line with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
Big-box stores, including Lowe’s, have remained open during the COVID-19 state of emergency as they are deemed essential businesses. To protect customers and employees, Chan said the company has reduced hours to allow more time for cleaning stores. Lowe’s has also made masks and gloves available for associates who want them and is monitoring the number of customers in the store. Plexiglass shields at registers and curbside pickup are also in place.
However, an employee who spent more than a decade with the company says people working at Lowe’s are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, and are scared of getting COVID-19 or bringing it home to their families.
The employee, who requested anonymity because of fear that speaking openly could jeopardize her job, confirmed the COVID-19 case at the Lewes Lowe’s and that the positive employee was sent home – but only after working fulltime for days.
The employee said management watched security videos to determine who the positive employee had come into contact with. The employee said the company has a COVID-19 task force and that cleaning efforts afterward were focused on areas where the positive employee had worked.
The employee said on April 19, employees were brought into a back room one by one and told about the positive test, and that those who came in contact with the positive employee were placed into quarantine. The employee also said the company’s social distancing protocols are not closely followed, the app the company developed to count customers is not being used, and personal protective equipment only recently began being used. As of April 28, the use of face masks by employees who interface with the public is now required under the governor’s most recent amendment to the state of emergency. Customers are also now required to use masks.
The employee said customers also can be a problem because some are not in the store to purchase essential items, but simply to shop, leaving employees in an awkward position.
“Employees see that there isn't one essential cartload of product leaving the store and think to themselves, ‘Is my life and my family's life worth it?’” the employee said.
There are reports of positive cases at other big-box retailers in the area, but other company officials did not confirm the cases.
Casey Staheli, spokesman for Walmart, said, “We are taking all measures necessary to ensure the well-being of those inside our stores, fulfillment centers and distribution centers.” He said in case stores do have a confirmed case, associates are offered medical care and emergency leave. Staheli said emergency leave is also offered for employees who feel unable or uncomfortable coming into work.
Stores are cleaned and sanitized regularly, Staheli said, and employees are required to wear masks. Customer counts are conducted by an employee stationed at the entrance, and Staheli said associates are given temperature checks prior to beginning shifts. If the associate has a fever or shows symptoms, the employee is sent home until symptoms subside or the employee goes through a 14-day quarantine.