A woman who worked as a cashier at Market Basket in Salem and in security at Walmart in Lynn died over the weekend from COVID-19 in a local hospital, her husband said Tuesday.
Vitalina Williams, 59, of Salem, died Saturday at NSMC: Salem Hospital, where she had been hospitalized for a week, David Williams said.
She appears to be the first grocery store worker in Massachusetts to have died from the virus. Her death comes as grocery store workers demand more protection, including masks and gloves, to protect them from the public amid the pandemic.
Williams worked part-time at Market Basket, and full-time at Walmart, where her duties included checking shoppers’ receipts at the front door to make sure they matched their purchases, he said.
His wife, an immigrant from Guatemala, was generally healthy, despite working two jobs, David Williams said.
But he wonders if her immune system lately wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
“She’s always been susceptible to laryngitis when she would get a cold,” David Williams said.
Market Basket said Vitalina Williams was a part-time employee for 11 years. She last worked at the Salem store on March 26, said Justine Griffin, a company spokeswoman.
“The entire Market Basket community is deeply saddened by this loss," she said in a statement. “We offer our support to her family and coworkers during this difficult time."
Counseling services have been made available to employees and their families.
"Our hearts go out to her husband Dave who is also a member of our Market Basket family,” she added.
David Williams, who stocks shelves at the Market Basket in Danvers, said his wife first experienced symptoms of COVID-19 around March 25.
The next day, she came home from her job at Walmart early because she was feeling ill, and she did not return to either job afterward, he said. On March 27, she was resting more comfortably and felt better during the daytime. She took a turn for the worse overnight and was hospitalized on March 28, he said.
After she was admitted to the hospital, she was quickly connected to a ventilator, so she was unable to speak by phone, and he was unable to visit her, David Williams said.
“The last time I saw her as a conscious human being was when she was sitting in a chair in the emergency room being interviewed by the nurse,” he said by telephone Tuesday evening. “And I had to leave because I wasn’t allowed to stay.”
It is not known where Vitalina Williams contracted the coronavirus that as of Tuesday had claimed 356 lives in Massachusetts and sickened more than 15,000 residents.
An employee at the Lynn Walmart deferred comment to the company’s headquarters, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Globe Tuesday evening.
In a statement announcing Williams’ death, Market Basket said two other employees at the Salem location have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in quarantine.
A specialized cleaning crew was brought in to clean and disinfect the store, Griffin said. The store has taken additional precautions to limit the spread of the virus, such as installing plexiglass at checkouts and limiting the number of customers who can be in the store.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll expressed condolences on the first confirmed death of a city resident.
“I offer our deepest condolences to this individual’s family, friends and co-workers,” Driscoll said in the statement, noting Market Basket is the city’s largest grocery store.
As of Tuesday, 88 Salem residents had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a city spokesman.
Lynn public health officials did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment Tuesday night.
David Williams said he is stunned by the death of his wife of 19 years.
“The tough part is waking up in the morning,” he said in a phone interview. “You’re in that twilight zone where you’re not quite conscious, you’re not quite ready to steel yourself. And then it hits you, and it’s just like a tidal wave throwing you over the rocks.”
She originally planned to stay in the United States for just a few years, he said. But she met her future husband and built a life full of love and wonder.
She tended to her garden, and took long walks in the evening.
“She and life had a bear hug of love around each other,” he said. “She loved life to the fullest and it loved her back. Everybody that knew her loved her. . . . She created her own world, and l lived in it, and now that’s gone.”
His wife also had a sly side, he fondly recalled.
“When we first met, she told me that she was three years younger than me,” he said. “She pulled it off — not only me but my friends and my family, nobody questioned that. But that’s how beautiful and wonderful a woman she was.”
Correspondent Matt Berg contributed to this story.