23 Detroit Whole Foods Market workers test positive for COVID-19

Detroit — More than 20 employees at the Whole Foods Market grocery store in the city's Midtown District were diagnosed Tuesday with COVID-19, officials said. 

As of Friday, no additional Whole Foods Market employees have tested positive for the virus, Detroit Public Health Officer Denise Fair said.

Whole Foods Market in Detroit

"We have not had anymore positive test results since then," she said. "We continue to provide testing to Whole Foods employees right across the street at the Health Department, but we have not identified any new cases there since we reported this Thursday."

The department continues to investigate, Fair said.

She also said the health department has not had any reports of any customers being infected.

"If customers were wearing their masks and practicing social distancing, they should be fine," she said. "But if they feel they were exposed, then they should get a test."

"And any Detroiter, or anyone, who feels they have been exposed to COVID-19, they can get tested for free at the Joseph Walker Williams Community Center."

To make an appointment for testing at the center, call (313) 230-0505. 

In the meantime, Fair said the city's Health Department and the company that operates the store are working together on contact tracing to determine if any others were exposed.

On Thursday, she said in a statement the company informed the city on Tuesday about the positive COVID-19 cases.

“The Detroit Health Department team acted immediately to address this outbreak by offering rapid testing to all employees," she said. "So far, 23 employees out of 196 have tested positive."

Fair called it "a very high infection rate."

"It's five times higher than the city of Detroit," she said. "Of course, that's outrageous and it should not have happened."

City officials spoke to store management and it voluntarily closed for business Tuesday evening and reopened Wednesday morning, the head of the city's health department said Friday.

The company has been very cooperative, Fair said.

She said Thursday the company told city officials none of its Detroit store workers or close contacts of any employee who has tested positive will be allowed back to work until they have produced a negative test result. The store is located on Mack near Woodward.

"This is a reminder to all grocery stores of the availability of vaccinations and the importance of getting their employees vaccinated to make sure this does not happen again,” Fair said. She reiterated the message Friday.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone called the outbreak a "wake-up call to grocery companies and elected leaders that these brave essential workers deserve and have earned more protections and must be immediately prioritized for vaccine access."

"The fact is that this pandemic is far from over and national grocery companies, from Whole Foods to Kroger, are failing to do what is necessary to protect essential workers and the customers who depend on them every day," he said. "Grocery companies must stop making excuses and must immediately increase worker protections, enforce mask wearing in stores, provide hazard pay, and commit to disclosing when frontline workers have been infected and died."

Based in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market Inc. has more than 350 retail and non-retail locations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.

A company representative said Thursday in a statement to The Detroit News that the safety of its team members and its customers remain its top priority.

"We address any confirmed diagnosis in our stores with a comprehensive action plan that includes enhanced cleaning and contact tracing, as well as communicating directly with our team members," the statement said. "We support any team member who is diagnosed positive or placed in quarantine so they can prioritize their health and stay home.

"We have rolled out extensive measures to keep people safe in our stores and are diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities.”

The Midtown location workers must receive a negative COVID-19 test before they can return to work, the representative also said.

Earlier Thursday, state officials reported Michigan added 1,388 cases and 48 deaths.

The figures bring Michigan's total number of cases to 585,352 and deaths to 15,453 since the virus was first detected in March, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Last week, the state totaled 5,695, cases and 209 deaths, the lowest weekly case total since Sept. 20. The week before, Michigan recorded 6,576 cases and 256 deaths.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that her administration will examine easing some COVID-19 restrictions as infection rates decline.


Twitter: @CharlesERamirez