A Walmart in Aurora, Colorado was forced to close after two employees and an employee's husband died from the coronavirus. The Tri-County Health Department ordered the store closed Thursday, noting there are six more confirmed coronavirus cases among employees and three more employees waiting for the results of the test. Walmart is co-operating with the investigation into the store.
The deceased are a 72-year-old female employee; her 63-year-old husband, who did not work at the Walmart; and a 69-year-old male who worked for an independent security company at the store. The Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) said the store was closed after receiving multiple complaints from employees and customers about the lack of social distancing at the store. They also received reports of employees not wearing masks and allowing too many people into the store at once.
"We are extremely saddened by this news and offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the three people we lost," John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, the TCHD executive director, said in a statement. "These deaths underscore the severity of the highly-contagious coronavirus, and the need for diligent safety precautions to prevent any further spread, including the wearing of masks."
The TCHD began receiving complaints about the store on Monday, reports the Denver Post. An employee described Thursday as chaotic before it was closed. Health officials received a half-dozen complaints about the store. There is no timeline for its reopening.
"It was terrible. There was no way we could be six feet apart. There were wall-to-wall people. They just bombarded at one time," the employee, who did not give their name, told the Post of the last moments before the store was closed. "We're supposed to only have a certain amount of people in there but we didn't. It was too many, they were everywhere."
The TCHD said the store must make major changes before it can reopen. Walmart is working with local officials and said it will hire "third-party cleaning experts to further clean and sanitize" the location. "We recognize how hard this is for our associates in Aurora and everyone impacted by this difficult situation. We want to do everything we can to support them at this time."
The employee who spoke with the Post said the store was following the social distancing policies introduced by Walmart nationally, but the enforcement was lax. There was another employee who was assigned to stay at the door and limit the number of customers allowed inside. That system was not followed through when the employee went on vacation or had to fill-in for another, the Post reports. Younger employees were also not wearing masks or pulled them down when managers were not looking.
The store was shut down the same day Walmart began mandating one-way aisles at every store across the country. The plan is meant to help customers keep their distance from others. Stores were told to put "shop this way" decals at the entrance of aisles and "do not shop this way" at the exits.