Safeway Produce Shortages Linked to Coronavirus Outbreak

Safeway, the grocery store chain, said the produce shortage at its stores is connected to a coronavirus outbreak at a distribution center serving all of its stores in Northern California. About 3 percent of the 1,700 workers at its facility in Tracy, California, tested positive for the coronaivrus and at least one employee has died, the company said on April 17. The 2.2 million-square-foot center is located about 50 miles east of San Francisco and 50 miles south of Sacramento.

Safeway Director of Public Affairs Wendy Gutshall told NBC Bay Area that all employees at the facility are wearing masks while working and have staggered their breaks to follow social distancing guidelines. Every employee and visitor needs to have their temperature taken and there are stronger sanitizing procedures in place. Safeway also said there is no evidence to suggest the coronavirus could be transferred through its packaging and products, citing the Food and Drug Administration.

"We were saddened to learn that an associate at our Tracy Distribution Center has passed away due to complications related to COVID-19," Safeway said in a statement, reports the Sacramento Bee. "Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts are with that associate’s family. This is difficult for the entire Safeway team." Safeway added that they will help the victim's family through the Safeway Foundation's We Care program.

The victim was identified as Pedro Zuniga, 52, of Turlock. His son, Jose Valencia, told the Modesto Bee he could not be with his father during his final moments. "I hope people take this seriously," Valencia said. "I was one of those that, you know, (thought) it doesn't happen. It just happened to other people. And it happened to our family."

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Valencia lives in Georgia, so he could not help his mother when his father fell ill. He flew back to California, but was still unable to see his father at the hospital. Zuniga's wife, four other children and three grandchildren were also kept from visiting him due to the coronavirus measures put in place. Valencia could not say were his father contracted the virus, but said he was hospitalized after he showed symptoms of COVID-19. Zuniga was in the hospital for a week before his death.

As of Monday, there are more than 1.18 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., reports Johns Hopkins University. There are more than 68,900 deaths due to the virus, are more than 187,000 patients have made a recovery. Over 7.2 million Americans have been tested.