The first reports of a handful of deaths in supply chain jobs from the Covid-19 disease have begun to emerge this week, even as logistics professionals throughout the industry continue working “essential” shifts in trucks, warehouses, and retail stores, increasing their risk of exposure to coronavirus.
Statistics on coronavirus infections and deaths shift every day, but as of yesterday, the U.S. toll from the pandemic included 396,223 confirmed cases and 12,722 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
According to published reports, some of that grim tally now involves the deaths of logistics and retail workers, including a civilian employee at a U.S. Army warehouse in Pennsylvania, and four people who worked at grocery stores including Giant Foods in Maryland, Trader Joe’s in New York, and Walmart in Illinois
Many health professionals say that official coronavirus statistics are almost certainly lower than actual conditions, because federal leaders have been slow to implement widespread testing or to correct shortages of test kits. In addition, the few tests that are conducted must be transported to federal offices in Atlanta for confirmation, so results are slow to emerge.
That absence of clear tracking data makes it impossible to say whether the five supply chain victims were exposed to the coronavirus on the job or in their private lives. Indeed, employers in many logistics sectors have provided face masks, antiseptic wipes, sneeze guards, and other protective gear.
But workers at a handful of retail stores and warehouses have recently walked off the job or planned large-scale “sick days” to protest equipment shortages, despite their jobs being qualified as “essential,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In the Pennsylvania case, the worker was employed at the New Cumberland Army Depot, just outside the state capital of Harrisburg, operated by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). Reports say the employee was one of six people who had tested positive for coronavirus as of Monday from the vast, 2000-person facility. The spaces at the site where the person worked have been cleaned to standards indicated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the grocery cases, the food chains involved have shut down most of the affected stores to apply safety measures such as plexiglass sneeze guards at cash registers, thorough cleaning with a focus on common areas, and signs that limit the number of customers who can shop at one time. The affected stores were located in the New York City suburb of Scarsdale, New York; in Largo, Maryland, just east of Washington, D.C.; and in Evergreen Park, Illinois, just south of Chicago.
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