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Worcester Walmart shuttered by coronavirus outbreak

A Walmart sign in Walpole, Mass. A Walmart Supercenter in Worcester was ordered by the city to close after 23 store employees tested positive for the coronavirus.
A Walmart sign in Walpole, Mass. A Walmart Supercenter in Worcester was ordered by the city to close after 23 store employees tested positive for the coronavirus.Steven Senne/Associated Press

A Walmart Supercenter in Worcester was ordered by the city to close Wednesday after 23 store employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The store on Tobias Boland Way must remain shuttered until it has been professionally cleaned and sanitized and approved by health department inspectors, the city said in a daily update to the public.

A Walmart spokesman said Wednesday night that most of the infected employees had not been to work in several days.

According to the spokesman, the company had planned to close the store at the end of business on Wednesday and keep it closed Thursday for cleaning and restocking, in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases in the community.

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In response to the order, the company shut down the store early and has been working with city officials to prepare for reopening, the spokesman said. Walmart no longer expects to reopen the store Friday, as previously planned.

Worcester reported 1,986 confirmed cases of the virus on Wednesday and said the city has seen an average of 65 new infections each day in April.

Data released by the state Wednesday showed that Worcester has had the third largest growth in cases of any Massachusetts city. Since officials began releasing detailed municipal data on April 15, Worcester’s infection count jumped from 886 cases to 2,284.

The most dramatic growth in the state was Boston, where 4,675 new cases were reported over that two-week span, bringing the city’s total to 9,284. The second largest growth was in Brockton, which went from 1,202 cases to 2,735.

The Worcester location is not the first Walmart in Massachusetts to be struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-nine-year-old Vitalina Williams, who worked full-time at a Walmart in Lynn and part-time a Market Basket in Salem, died April 4.

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When the Worcester store reopens, all employees must be tested for the virus and the city’s medical director must approve them to return to work, the city said. Both customers and workers will be required to wear face masks, and employees will be required to wear protective gloves, the city said.

Worcester Department of Public Health officials found Tuesday that workers and shoppers in the store were not wearing personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of the virus, the city said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.