Three employees of Trader Joe’s South Pasadena store on Mission St. in South Pasadena tested positive for COVID-19 and another is showing symptoms, a company spokesperson told the South Pasadenan News Monday.
The results came in between April 8 and April 11. Two positive test results came on April 9 and a third on April 11. Another employee has not been tested but was told by a doctor April 8 his or her symptoms were consistent with the disease. The workers whose results came in April 9 had not been in store since March 28 and March 30 respectively, and the one who tested positive April 11 was last in the store April 6. The crew member showing symptoms was last in the store April 3. The store initially closed over night after the April 9 tests; it announced a prolonged closure late on April 12. The store is undergoing a thorough cleaning and is set to reopen April 15.
All four crew members are recovering, though the spokesperson did not know if they were at home or being treated elsewhere.
The details about timing and number of affected employees was provided by Kenya Friend-Daniel, Trader Joe’s National Director of Public Relations, after the company posted an announcement on its website late Sunday saying an unspecified number of “crew members” had tested positive for COVID-19 and that the store was closing “for additional cleaning.”
The South Pasadena store was one of two California Trader Joe’s outlets whose closure the company announced Sunday, the other being in San Clemente. Closure of two stores in New Jersey and Massachusetts were also announced Sunday. Eight outlets in New York are also closed, each set to reopen by May 1.
Privately held Trader Joes, founded in Pasadena and now head-quartered in Monrovia, has 505 stores across the US, including 200 in California.
The company has been voluntarily announcing COVID-19 related store closures since it first got a positive test, Friend-Daniel said.
There have been confirmed reports that employees at the South Pasadena store declined an offer from the community for face masks, arguing “I’m not sick, so what’s the point.” COVID is known to be transmittable, even by asymptomatic carriers.
In addition, an employee of the South Pasadena store who asked to remain anonymous told the South Pasadena News that when the crisis began in March, employees were not initially allowed to wear gloves or masks. “They were scared that if the public saw us, it would cause more panic,” the employee said. Authorization for gloves was given on March 22, the employee said, and later also for the wearing of masks.
While saying management should have acted sooner, the employee said the store has been taking measures to be professionally cleaned and that all employees, known as “crew members,” have been trying their best to show up for work and to be healthy. “But it is scary to know there are cases within our crew.”
The employee said the store’s regional manager and its “Captain”—store manager Bryan Lo—have been supportive and encouraging crew members to raise questions and to take leave from the store “if they need a break from everything.”
Lo did not respond to an e-mail message.
Friend-Daniel said the company has taken proactive measures during the crisis that have been consistent with or ahead of the quickly evolving recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding handwashing, sanitizing and social distancing. Crew working registers, for example, can wash their hands every 30 to 60 minutes, are told not to come in if they feel ill and are getting additional pay. The store controls the number of customers allowed in and keeps carts and baskets clean.
She said the company has received well-meaning offers at many of its stores from customers and the community for masks and other items, but that Trader Joes has been careful about wanting to be sure about the sourcing of such equipment. She said the offers began two-to-three weeks ago, just as the company was making arrangements with one of its clothing suppliers to produce masks for crew members. Pending their arrival, crewmembers could wear homemade masks, she said.
But the company “never issued any guidance to not wear masks because we don’t want to alarm customers.” She said masks weren’t initially recommended by the CDC, but the guidance changed. “As soon as it did, we sought to have masks made for our crew members,” and the same is true for gloves.
But the Trader Joe guidance is companywide, and one of the company’s executives recently noted it prides itself on giving its store “Captains” latitude in making decisions for their respective stores. However, that discretion is considerably limited with respect to COVID-related measures, Friend-Daniel said. She couldn’t speak to the specific report about the prohibition of masks at the South Pasadena store, “but that was not the guidance provided.”
Friend-Daniel rejected the employee’s notion that the company could have acted sooner. “There is nothing we could have done.” She said she is familiar with the South Pasadena store and its Captain. “He is a great Captain; the crew is awesome and works well together.”
There have been constant meetings about the changing federal, state and local guidance. She said the issue of individual stores’ policy has come up before as have reports about an anonymous crew member saying something wasn’t allowed. As a result, the company has resent messaging to which crew members have access saying that if had had access to gloves, and were more comfortable wearing them, they could do so.