April 21, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Trader Joe’s has confirmed that five of its staff at the Rego Park store have tested positive for COVID-19 – just weeks after a worker there raised concerns that the company was not doing enough to keep its staff and customers safe in the face of the pandemic.
The same worker, who is a crewmember at the 90-30 Metropolitan Ave. store and didn’t want his name disclosed for publication, shared an April 15 company email with the Queens Post last week that was sent to staff with information about the positive cases.
The contents of the e-mail were confirmed by Trader Joe’s yesterday.
The email, written by the grocery store’s manager, revealed that four members at the store had tested positive for COVID-19 and that they were all out on a leave of absence at the time. The manager wrote that they had not worked for at least three weeks and none of them have been in the store since. The email does not mention the dates they tested positive for COVID-19.
The email then states that on Sunday, April 12, a fifth crew member tested positive for coronavirus. The female staff member had not been in the store since April 1, the email reads.
The whistleblower was upset that the company did not promptly tell staff when the store was notified about all of the positive test results. Many were fearful that the infected employees may have spread the virus.
“It wasn’t clear when any of these other four people contracted the virus,” he said.
Kenya Friend-Daniel, a Trader Joe’s spokesperson, corroborated that five employees at the store had tested positive. However, she said that none of the other staff at the store were put at risk.
Daniel said that the employees who tested positive had been out for more than a week when they informed the store that they had tested positive. Additionally, none of them started showing symptoms prior to taking leave.
Friend-Daniel said the company has been taking a number of safety measures to protect staff and customers from the virus– including closing stores for cleanings.
For instance, Trader Joe’s closed its Rego Park on April 5 for the day and hired an outside group to clean the store as a precautionary measure. The store was not required to clean the store to adhere to CDC guidelines– since none of the employees who tested positive had worked there within seven days of their diagnosis.
Friend-Daniel also noted that the company conducts a thorough cleaning of the store before its opens and after it closes each day to reduce the risk of COVID-19. She said that there are designated employees assigned to the task.
On March 21 the whistleblower contacted the Queens Post alleging that the store had not provided staff with enough gloves or hand sanitizer to protect them from the coronavirus. He also alleged that social distancing procedures were being disregarded and that employees were not wearing masks.
The company pushed back against the charges at the time and said that it was concerned about all of its staff and customers safety and questioned the claims.
However, the employee claims that the article’s release triggered Trader Joe’s into action and the store began slowly handing out extra gloves, hand sanitizer and masks to employees over the following two weeks. He said that the company also began assigning staff to extra cleaning and enhanced sanitation of high traffic spots like cash registers and check-out areas.
The employee said that the store has also implemented wellness checks prior to workers beginning their shifts. Staff are now being asked if they are feeling unwell, if they feel they have any COVID-19 symptoms or if they have come in contact with anyone who may have tested positive for the virus, he said.
The worker expressed his appreciation that the company has been implementing new policies and cleaning procedures but is confused over the delay in communicating the positive results with staff and the timing of store closures for cleanings.
Last week the store announced that it was temporarily shutting a string of city stores to carry out COVID-19 cleaning and sanitization work including the Rego Park which is due to close on April 23 and will re-open on April 24.
The closings follow several reports that employees at various Trader Joe’s stores in the city have contracted the virus.
Just days after the Rego Park employee spoke to the Queens Post, the Union Square location was temporarily closed after a worker at the shop was confirmed to have the virus and the company also shut its Spring Street store in SoHo temporarily after several staff there tested positive for the virus, according to the New York Post.