20% of workers at a grocery store in Boston tested positive, 3/4 were asymptomatic

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Earlier this week I watched about half of a sobering new documentary by the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room, Alex Gibney. It’s called Totally Under Control, it’s on Hulu and is about the US’s botched response to the coronavirus pandemic, especially compared to South Korea and other countries that followed the science. I had to turn it off because it’s maddening, frankly. So many people knew back in February and were sounding the alarm, only to be thwarted at every turn. You know how the Trump administration is ignoring the scientists, lying and causing so many deaths, misery and poverty. So much is shut down and so many people are suffering. The documentary also mentioned people serving us and working in industries where they can’t socially distance, like meat packing and grocery stores. The journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine just published findings from a study of a grocery story in Boston. Out of the 104 workers tested there, 20% were positive and this was in MAY. Most of those people were asymptomatic, suggesting significant transmission risk.

Grocery store work puts employees at serious risk for infection, a new study found, particularly those who have to interact with customers.

These workers likely became a “significant transmission source” for Covid-19 without even knowing it because most in the study were asymptomatic.
The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is the first to demonstrate the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks and psychological distress grocery workers have felt during the pandemic.

In the study, 20% of the 104 grocery workers tested at a store in Boston in May had positive nasal swab tests.

This was a significantly higher rate of infection than what was seen in the surrounding communities, the researchers said. Workers who dealt with customers were five times as likely to test positive for Covid-19 as colleagues in other positions.

But three out of four of those who tested positive had no symptoms.

[From CNN]

The article goes on to report that 91% of workers wore masks at work but less wore them outside of work and only 66% were socially distancing. I’m sure that the statistics on positive asymptomatic workers are higher now that we’re so much farther into the pandemic, we’re just not learning about it.

I see grocery store workers without masks all the time by me. Not every time, but often enough. Every time I see them with the masks pulled down under their noses. I ALWAYS see shoppers without them. I live in a rural community with a lot of rednecks and they can be a-holes. My solution is to shop first thing in the morning or right before they close and to give those people a wide berth. I like shopping at Food Lion and Dollar General because I know where everything is and things are cheaper, but the lack of mask-wearing is disturbing. The rare times I’ve gone into Kroger everyone but one to two people have been masked, but I dislike Kroger because things are more expensive and harder to find. I have to get over that. It’s just too stressful to shop lately. I’m going to do Kroger pickup for my next grocery run, it just pisses me off too much to go to the store. That’s not the fault of the people working there, I know they’re putting themselves and their family at risk to serve us. Everything is just a clusterf*k lately and that’s the Trump administration’s fault.

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phtotos credit: Hanson Lu and Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash, Anna Shvets and Cottonbro on Pexels

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40 Responses to “20% of workers at a grocery store in Boston tested positive, 3/4 were asymptomatic”

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  1. Caroline says:

    I just watched Totally Under Control and it made me so incredibly angry. This administration and all of its cronies need to be removed but I am so afraid they will remain for another four years.

    • emmy says:

      Bless NEON for putting this online for free. I will watch this tonight.

      I think it’s difficult to ascertain if it was their work environment or their behavior outside of work if many didn’t take any precautions in their personal life. Stores over here (Germany) have been strict since March. I feel safe going shopping to be honest.

  2. Snuffles says:

    I personally order grocery delivery from Whole Foods and order everything else on Amazon.

    My parents are retired military so my Mom goes on base during senior citizen hours and shops in a safe, controlled environment.

    We are fortunate that we have these options. Others aren’t as lucky.

  3. LightPurple says:

    Back in April, early May when our numbers were highest, quite a few grocery workers in the greater Boston area died from Covid19. The state stepped up safety measures for them. Whether stores are following them is a different issue.

    ETA The testing in the story occurred at a time when Trump was outbidding MA on PPE and confiscating the supplies our Governor had managed to purchase and he gave MA only 7% of what was requested. All part of Kushner’s plot to kill the Blue states.

    • SamC says:

      I was in two Boston area Costco’s yesterday; all their employees and 95% of the customers had their masks on appropriately, all the outside carts were sprayed at least 3 times and there was an employee doing another wipe down as he passed them to customers.

      Then went into a Whole Foods, where you’d think people would be on it, well, not so much,

      • Anna says:

        Same re: Whole Foods here in Chicago. Very poor quality control but employee I asked for help still acting holier-than-thou like I’ve experienced pre-pandemic. I just can’t justify the prices for the bad attitude. Trader Joe’s (not all, just one location) is great, workers all masked and taking precautions, always willing to wipe down surfaces whereas the other location downtown they have to go walking to find wipes or cleanser. That should all be right there, accessible.

      • TQ says:

        Yep, Costco here in the UK is the only place I’ve felt safe getting groceries. Everyone is masked and they give you a cart that’s been sprayed. And it’s so big it’s much easier to social distance. I just do delivery or pick up for the rest of my groceries, as it’s just too stressful to try avoiding all the covidiots. I really feel for the grocery store workers.

      • SamC says:

        Totally agree re Trader Joe’s. And they make waiting in line as fun as possible too!

      • Cate says:

        Trader Joe’s is definitely the best here in terms oof cleaning and enforcing space limits. We have had a mask mandate since very early on (maybe late April) though, and people are mostly very good at adhering you it.

  4. Christine says:

    Masks are required here and people have them, but many don’t wear them properly. Like you said, pulled down past their nose or even pulled down completely not covering their mouths. We traveled to visit my parents in TX last month and stopped for a break at a large chain gas station that supposedly required masks, yet many people were walking around without them, touching EVERYTHING. We noped out of there pretty fast.

  5. SamC says:

    FWIW friend of a friend works for a foundation that gives a lot of funding for NIH research. Last week they were told teleworking was being extended through next June, vs January as initially planned because, no surprise, it’s not under control, there is not a viable vaccine coming November 4 (🙄), and scientists fully expect numbers to keep growing.

    • ATLMathMom says:

      My husband is a federal civil service employee, and this matches how his office is operating.

    • Ash says:

      Was it Google that told all their employees to work from home until the end of next year? And Twitter or someone that said to basically never come back if they don’t want to? Yeah, we’re 100% in this for the long haul.

      (I work for a public organization and we’ve been told to work from home until told otherwise, for what it’s worth. Greetings from German Lockdown 2.0, by the way!)

    • Jensies says:

      Funny because I’m in mental health and my boss is pushing me to come back to the office ASAP so I can continue serving clients…who are using phone and zoom. But she wants us to come into a clinic with awful ventilation and see clients in person if they want to come in. I’m a therapist, so that means seeing them crying, breathing heavily, in a small windowless office. It’s ridiculous and dangerous.

    • fluffy_bunny says:

      My husband works for a bank and only essential people are working in the offices right now. Anyone who can work from home is. We have no clue when they are going back into the office but he works in a 60 story building so it’s going to probably be after everyone is vaccinated because there’s no way to safely get 60 floors of people into and out of a building. And when they do go back they are inviting people to come to work and not forcing them to.

  6. JP says:

    It’s getting bad in the greater Boston area again, our town in the suburbs just turned red for the first time since early summer. I feel for the store workers, they are in a bad position without enough support. MA has pretty good mask wearing compliance and I’ve still yet to see 100% of the people shopping in stores wearing them correctly- lots of exposed noses or masks down around their necks. I wish people would have more compassion for the people working in the stores, they are so exposed.

    • SamC says:

      I’m in Rhode Island and at her press conference today we all expect the Governor to announce we are going back to phase 2.

    • North of Boston says:

      Exactly! I’m in Massachusetts too. And while there is pretty good mask compliance, it’s never 100%. There are always noses and mouths hanging out, and there are ALWAYS the people who either pull down their masks to talk/cough, or who are maskless and insist on crowding other people.

      My small north short town just went red for the first time in week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we have another statewide shutdown, because the infection rates are getting that bad and hospitalization rates are going up again too. And though medical professionals know so much more about treating this than they did in March, PPE is starting to get scarce again.

  7. tmbg says:

    I feel like the only person that is taking this very seriously. My mom called me an agoraphobic and my husband thinks I’m overreacting because I refuse to go anywhere except essential appointments and am still disinfecting my groceries. Our area isn’t too bad as far as cases go, but still. You don’t know how many asymptomatic people are walking around.

    I’m so mentally worn down. If that ass is voted back in on Tuesday, I’m going to want to drive off a stinking cliff.

    • Anna says:

      Stay strong @tmbg I feel your pain and am in a similar position, only going out for groceries (and now doctor visits), early in the morning when possible. I know it feels sometimes like we are going too far when so many around us are not taking this seriously. But *we are right* in taking precautions. I’m sorry you have people around you who are adding negativity to the stress and added safety pressure we’re all under right now, but please try to ignore them and trust that you are doing the right thing for yourself and for others.

      • tmbg says:

        Thanks, Anna. I’m just so sick of it all. You know it’s bad when you start thinking, “Man, my grandma sure is lucky that she passed away before Dump was elected and all of this crap hit the fan.” It’s just bleakness and despair.

        I’ll keep disinfecting and praying that lump of garbage is voted out of here.

    • salmonpuff says:

      My parents think we are insane for staying home and limiting contact. Meanwhile, they’re out there going to restaurants, having parties with their friends and hanging at their golf club. My dad told my daughter masks don’t work and that she’s silly for wearing them. It’s bizarro world over there…which is why we’re having Thanksgiving at home alone!

      • tmbg says:

        You’re not insane. I’ve read that end stage Covid can cause lungs to collapse. I’ve had a collapsed lung and never want to live through that again, so I’ll be “overreacting” until there’s a vaccine or effective treatment that’s readily available. Hang in there!

    • Cerise says:

      @TMBG – I feel your frustration !
      I have barely been out of the house for the last 8 months, haven’t seen our families, haven’t gone to restaurants, school, anything that is not essential and I still managed to get it last week!
      I am so incredibly frustrated as I only go out maybe once a week for groceries (always wearing a mask and gloves and at times when it’s less busy) and a few early mornings bringing my kid to the park before it gets crowded. I am still in shock and cannot understand where I could have gotten it. I’m thinking this thing is way more contagious than they are letting on as I have been extremely cautious to the point of exaggerating. I wipe everything down, change clothes if I have been outside, etc…
      Meanwhile, people I know have gone on holiday, keep going shopping and eating out like this pandemic is not happening. It’s just infuriating.

      • tmbg says:

        I am sorry you caught it, Cerise. How are you doing? I hope it’s a mild case and you’ll recover as quickly as possible. Big hugs to you. ♥️

  8. Redder says:

    I’ve been working in office since my company is “essential”. It’s so scary everyday going in knowing that my coworkers don’t wear masks. We are only required to wear them for 6 weeks if someone tests positive here, which has happened multiple times. This is in NY State. I’m exhausted and stressed. And very frightened for Tuesday.

  9. Jack says:

    The Kroger around the corner from my house stopped spraying their carts in July. They put towels and spray out in case customers wanted to spray their carts themselves. They also don’t care if people don’t wear masks. I shop at HEB anyway because their prices are better, but they are still spraying carts and have someone at the entrance handing out masks if someone needs one. It’s a republican company, but they are taking the pandemic seriously.

    • North of Boston says:

      The local store near me doesn’t seem to clean carts anymore, or at least not in any systematic way.

      There’s sometimes a high school kid standing by the carts, holding a spray bottle. But any time I’ve gone there, I’ve only seen them wipe the handles with a dry paper towel before pushing it toward a customer. So I’ve taking to wiping them down myself when I get there.

      Though, TBH, I’m getting ready to switch back to my March-April MO and get everything by delivery, because local infection rates are going up lately. I’ve already switched to weekly deliver from the local farmer’s market and was able to sign up for a milkman, who brings dairy, eggs and some baked goods right to my door from local providers. So switching to delivery for other groceries shouldn’t be too bad.

  10. SusieQ says:

    I live in rural Virginia, near the NC border. My town has two grocery stores, and neither offers curbside pickup. I’d say about 50% of people wear their masks correctly in Lowe’s Foods, and only about 25% wear them correctly in Walmart. It’s so disheartening, because my county has the highest per capita death rate in our health district.

    I survived Covid that I contracted at my job, but I am dealing with lingering symptoms, including taste and smell issues. I have a friend who gives birth in a month who went to a Halloween party last night with her husband, who is a nurse. The party was given by a bunch of other nurses, so my friend reasoned that it was “safe.” It was one of the dumbest things I’ve heard lately. I got so frustrated with her that I cried.

    • TeamMeg says:

      Are you taking zinc, SusieQ? That might help with the taste and smell issues. 30-50 mg/day is what many experts recommend. Best wishes for a continued and complete recovery. xo

  11. Busyann says:

    I used to shop at Wegman’s. They had great social distancing measures in place in the beginning but over the summer they stopped giving af and didn’t even bother to wipe down carts. After that, I started ordering pick up from Harris Teeter. On the weekends I get up super early and drive to a Target in another town that has a low amount of cases to buy other things and get a little retail therapy in.

    • windyriver says:

      Very interested in your take on Wegman’s, as I noticed the same thing (NJ). They were exceptional in the early months, then all that went away completely. I don’t mind them not wiping the carts as I always wipe my own anyway and at least they still provide wipes and sanitizer at the entrance. My big issue is, the couple I’ve times I was there in recent months they didn’t appear to be controlling the number of people in the store in any way and so the areas where everyone goes – like produce – are way more crowded than anyone should be comfortable with (even though where I am everyone does wear a mask). Have been done with them for a while.

  12. lucy2 says:

    I’m in one of those areas where people from NYC fled to, and I didn’t go to a grocery store for months as a result.

  13. Other Renee says:

    Kroger operates as Ralph’s here in San Diego. In the beginning they were great about wiping down carts. Now they just leave wipes out for customers. All their employees are masked as are 99.9% of the customers. A couple of weeks ago a middle aged couple walked unmasked through the store without a cart or groceries, clearly looking for a fight. I know the type: fake blonde, lots of plastic surgery, wealthy. I reported them to the employees and they did nothing. Actually, when I pointed out in which direction the maskless couple was walking, the employee walked in the opposite direction!

    Trader Joe’s is the best. They clean carts, limit the number of shoppers and are relentless about everyone wearing a mask.

    • Daphne says:

      I have been impressed with TJ’s as well. It’s not my favorite place to shop and I prefer some brands that are not available there. But in Denver they are religious about sanitizing everything, have a line with markers, and do not let too many people in the store. They also encourage every other customer to alternate where they start in the store. Safeway was a hellscape the last two times I went. It was not safe. I said it.

  14. TeamMeg says:

    This study was just published, but I think it’s important to note the testing of Boston grocery store workers was done back in May, at the height of the pandemic (first wave). Interesting to note that even at that point in time, the majority of the 20% who tested positive were without symptoms. It seems to me, therefore, that the great fear of asymptomatic transmission did not bear out. Otherwise, we would have seen tremendous rises in hospitalizations and death rates since May. Instead, that curve has fallen and flattened, even as the virus spreads. Case counts naturally have risen as the virus moves around the country (and the globe), but most cases are asymptomatic or mild. I find this news hopeful. Nevertheless, it remains critical for those at higher risk, i.e. people with comorbidities, to exercise EXTREME caution and for everyone else to be smart, safe and cautious. Even after we have more reliable treatments and/or a vaccine, the virus may always be with us, but it won’t be a pandemic forever, thank God. Here’s where I got the May testing date info: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201029191116.htm

    • whateveryousay says:

      Well gee. Let’s ignore the 1,000 people dying a day now in October. And this study and what’s going on now shows that it doesn’t matter with comorbidities since totally healthy people are getting this and passing away from it.

      And you are ignoring the fact that most in the black community who catch this are passing away.

    • North of Boston says:

      Have you seen the numbers in the Boston area lately? Or even the numbers in the Boston area throughout the summer? Some neighborhoods have never seen their numbers go down to a safe level even as some of the less populated areas nearby have seen lower rates.

      The risk of COVID-19 transmission in Massachusetts, not just in Boston and adjacent communities, but in many cities and towns in the state, has “risen dramatically in the last two months”
      https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/10/30/nation/graphic-number-covid-19-high-risk-communities-mass-has-risen-dramatically-take-look-where/

  15. Sam Brown says:

    Teammeg – I never comment but I came here to say thank you!!! Thank you for being a voice of reason.

    • Kkat says:

      No she isn’t, she is spouting old facts from months ago.
      Today’s facts are there are 90,000 new cases a day and 1,000 people dying a day.
      Which will go up dramatically as the hospitals hit capacity.

      And a lot of those asymptomatic and mild cases are causing long term serious damage and delayed death.
      75% of mild cases are having heart damage.
      We are seeing many cases of clotting issues and damage due to clotty blood.
      This is 2-6 months after they have recovered.