Walmart, Grocers Can Avoid New Mexico Shutdowns With Covid-19 Testing
By Sarah Krouse
New Mexico officials are offering grocery stores, retailers and
other essential businesses a way to avoid shutdowns when workers
become infected with Covid-19: regularly test all employees.
Supermarkets, big-box retailers and hotels that pay for regular
testing and contact tracing of their workers will be exempt from
two-week shutdowns the state has imposed on stores with infected
employees as cases rise. Under the new agreement, companies must
foot the bill for the measures, test workers every two weeks and
share those plans with New Mexico health officials.
The voluntary agreement offered to essential businesses is the
latest attempt by public-health officials and companies to balance
workplace safety and mitigate spread of the coronavirus during the
pandemic's worst phase to date. The typically busy holiday shopping
season opens the day after Thanksgiving.
More businesses, schools and other facilities are using Covid-19
testing as a proactive screening measure rather than a tool to
respond when they learn of outbreaks.
New Mexico has implemented a stay-at-home order that shut down
nonessential businesses such as gyms and salons through Nov. 30.
Grocery stores and other retailers like Walmart Inc. and Target
Corp. that derive more than a third of their revenue from food
sales remain open while other big-box chains like Dick's Sporting
Goods Inc. and department stores can only open for curbside
Before offering the testing-program agreement Tuesday, the state
had also shut down businesses for 14 days after some workers have
tested positive and added others to a watch list. Locations that
have been shut for two weeks thus far include several Walmart and
Albertsons Cos. stores, state records show.
A Walmart spokesman said the company was New Mexico's largest
employer and had already entered into an agreement with officials
to test all its employees there every two weeks. It has received a
draft contract from the state and is reviewing it internally, he
added. Albertsons didn't immediately respond to a request for
"By incentivizing businesses to participate in a regular
surveillance testing program, we are keeping New Mexicans safe,
slowing the spread of COVID19, and preventing additional closures
of essential businesses," James Kenney, secretary of the New Mexico
Environment Department, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation says the latest
New Mexico restrictions "ignore everything we have learned as a
country and will intensify the hardships of its citizens," adding
that retailers have invested in safety measures and stores "are not
a source of rampant community spread." The organization called for
policies based on how stores operate, not what items they sell, she
New Mexico is one of many states revising workplace safety
protocols as the pandemic stretches on and intensifies.
California officials last week passed emergency temporary
standards that require companies to have written Covid-19
prevention protocols including offering testing to workers who were
exposed to infected people, providing face coverings and crafting
Some medical and testing advisers say mandatory testing of
retail workers is likely to add a significant amount of demand for
diagnostic testing and is likely to require companies to source a
dedicated supply to ensure they can stay open.
"Employers need to be better prepared with testing outside their
health plans and we need to be aware of the impact of that on the
public health testing infrastructure," said Brock Anderson,
executive director at CMO onDemand, which offers temporary
corporate medical directors to businesses.
Demand for testing has surged ahead of Thanksgiving as cases
rise and people seek tests before traveling or visiting family.
Hospitalizations, which have set new records every day for two
weeks, hit a fresh high of 85,836 on Nov. 23, according to the
Covid Tracking Project.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 25, 2020 15:36 ET (20:36 GMT)
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