Three workers at a Franklin, Wisconsin Walmart store have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), the Director of Health & Human Services for the Franklin Health Department confirmed to Heavy.com in an interview on April 7, 2020.
The community where the Walmart Supercenter is located stands in a suburban city near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Walmart in question is at 6701 S. 27th St. Courtney Day, director of Health & Human Services for the City of Franklin Health Department, told Heavy.com that the Health Department learned of the first Franklin Walmart employee testing positive the previous week, and “we were alerted of additional positive tests” on April 6, 2020.
“Three is the number we have,” she said, confirming that all three were employees at the Franklin Walmart. (Walmart corporate declined to confirm whether the store has had workers with positive tests, telling Heavy.com that its national policy is to send journalists to local health departments for such information. The spokesman acknowledged that some county health departments tell journalists more than others will. You can read those comments later in this article.)
“Last week, with the initial case, we were in contact with their management discussing what they were doing for cleaning and disinfecting for staff as well as customers,” Day said of the store, adding that the Health Department was also working with management to ensure that “appropriate social distancing with people in the store and the staff” was occurring. “This week we followed up with them again.” She said she believes the store was taking proper responses to the positive tests.
As of April 7, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is providing this data on COVID-19 in the state:
Negative Test Result 28,512
Positive Test Result 2,578
Hospitalizations 745 (29%)
Here’s what you need to know:
Walmart Won’t Confirm Whether Its Employees Test Positive for COVID-19 But the City Did
Day said it’s not clear how the workers contracted COVID-19. “We don’t know if it’s community spread,” Day said. She said that the three workers are not going into the store since they received positive tests and don’t live in Franklin, but she declined to provide additional information about them.
Asked whether other workers who had direct contact with the employees were being told they had such contact, Day said: “Anybody that would have had close contact with the individuals would be contacted by a Health Department individually to let them know they were in contact.” Whether it would be suggested that those people still work, she said it would “depend on the circumstances, what the type of contact was, and if the person has symptoms.”
She said Franklin has 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Asked whether the public should be scared to go to the Franklin Walmart now, she said, “No, I don’t think so. They are taking appropriate precautions for their staff and customers.” She advised that the public “only go out when they need to, only buy what they need to, and practice good hand hygiene and physical distancing from others.”
She said it’s been “difficult to catch up to the illness” because COVID-19 is new. “There isn’t a vaccine…there isn’t any sort of anti-viral that you can take after the fact. It is harder to treat and prevent.”
A worker at the Franklin Walmart who wanted to stay anonymous out of fear over losing the job expressed concern in an interview with Heavy.com because the worker is a caregiver for an elderly person with health conditions.
Asked what Walmart is doing in response to this, the worker said: “There’s sanitation in the break room more often; handing out masks and gloves and within a week or two they’re going to start taking our temperature before we can work.” The worker added: “I feel concerned for the safety of the workers and customers.”
The elderly woman who the worker is a caregiver for told Heavy.com in an interview: “It’s making me more scared and nervous about it. Otherwise, up to this point, I’ve just been busy with spring cleaning. It really hasn’t bothered me until the other day that one had it and now three. I get nervous about that. I have asthma and Diabetes on top of it. (The worker) comes right home here.”
Earlier, before contacting the Health Department, Heavy.com contacted the Franklin Walmart and spoke to a manager. The manager replied, “We are not able to comment on that at the store level so I will have to direct you to our media relations line at our home office here, and they will be able to provide you with a statement.” She refused to give her name. She provided a 1-800 number to media relations. That number directs journalists to submit their media requests online. It didn’t take long before Heavy.com received a call back from Casey Staheli, senior manager, National Media Relations, Corporate Communications, for Walmart.
Staheli wouldn’t confirm whether the Franklin Walmart had workers with positive COVID-19 tests. He said that’s true of all journalists’ requests about positive coronavirus tests at Walmarts throughout the country. Asked whether Walmart has an obligation to let the public and employees know if employees test positive for COVID-19, he responded, “We’re directing the inquiries to those healthcare professionals.” Asked if workers who have direct contact with another worker with COVID-19 would be told to not come to work, he said, “We have processes in place to address those situations when they arise” but wouldn’t detail them.
“We’re directing people to touch base with their local health department,” he stressed, acknowledging that “some counties are very forthcoming with the information and others aren’t.” He added that local health departments “best know how to address the concerns of the communities” they serve.
“Our most recent announcement was about additional steps we’re taking to encourage and improve social distancing within our stores. On March 31 we announced additional steps were taking for the health and safety of our associates and customers,” Staheli said. “One thing we want to emphasize about the March 31 announcement is that providing these materials to facilities and enacting these new initiatives will take about three weeks to put in place. Other steps we’ve taken include updating our leave policies and installing sneeze guards and social distancing decals. We announced this on March. 24. It’ll take a couple of weeks to get them set up.”
He added: “Additionally, we enacted cleaning and sanitizing protocols with guidance from the CDC and Walmart’s Chief Medical Officer early on and we will continue taking any and all measures necessary to ensure the well-being of our associates and customers. Those include delivering updated procedures to associates through videos and photos, as well as schedules for cleaning to help provide clear guidance. We have a voice-activated app called Ask Sam that associates can use to ask for cleaning guides for any area of the store, and our stores have adjusted operating hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to help associates restock shelves while continuing to clean and sanitize the building.”