Quincy officials are awaiting COVID-19 test results of employees at a local Walmart where a worker died from the virus before determining when the business can reopen, city Health Commissioner Ruth Jones said Tuesday.
Jones provided a brief update on the investigation in an e-mail message. She said officials are barred by medical privacy laws from identifying the deceased worker, whose passing was confirmed Monday.
The commissioner said contact tracing was used for the 11 employees at the store who had tested positive for the virus as of Monday. The tracing procedure is the process where health officials call close contacts of people who become infected to inform them of possible exposure.
“We have done contact tracing for years in the Health department as part of all our communicable disease investigations, this is done internally by our staff,” Jones wrote. “All the identified close contacts of these cases were contacted and quarantined if necessary. Walmart was given a warning last week regarding the conditions there and they did send a district employee to the store to work with our inspector to improve the violations.”
Jones added that the inspector “went there to talk to them regarding social distancing and crowd control. They did send a district person down who did help to alleviate some of the problem. They closed shortly after so no fines were imposed.”
Regrading contact tracing, Jones also said that when the city receives notification from the state “of a positive case we do a case investigation that includes contact tracing. This process has been used for years in health departments to investigate any communicable disease and we do it internally through our department.”
Part of the investigation, Jones said, “is to find out where the case works and who they had close contact with at work. We also investigate household and social contacts as well. We then determine who in all those settings is a close contact and then proceed to who gets isolated or quarantined.”
Jones added that Walmart has “hired a company to deep clean and disinfect and I believe that was conducted last night. We must await test results and conduct a reinspection before they can reopen.”
She said testing of store employees is being done through the Manet Health Center in Quincy.
A Walmart spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The company said Monday in a statement that "there are no words to express the loss of our associate, and we are mourning alongside their family.”
Jones had said Monday that the retailer decided to close the store at 301 Falls Boulevard after she expressed concern about the rising number of cases there.
“We certainly express our sympathy to her family,” Mayor Tom Koch said in a Monday video message posted on the city website.
Jones said Monday that the city had been observing the Walmart for about two weeks after complaints that employees and customers were not following social distancing recommendations.
“My inspectors have been there all week last week every day to make sure that the guidelines were being followed,” she said. “They did correct some of those social distancing issues but I was still concerned about the amount of cases. And once one of their employees died, it became a much more serious issue that we had to deal with today."
Jones said Monday that it could be at least four days until the store can reopen.
Walmart said in Monday’s statement that it’s “working with local officials on next steps to reopen” and “discussing measures like testing for associates and others who work at the store."
"Once re-opened, we will continue to conduct associate health screens and temperature checks, and all associates will be provided with facemasks and gloves,” the company statement said.
The Quincy cases come after a COVID-19 outbreak at the Walmart in Worcester, where 81 employees have tested positive. The Worcester store was shut down last week.
In Quincy, there have been a total of 885 known cases of the novel coronavirus, and 80 people have died, Koch said Monday.
Statewide as of Monday, the virus had claimed the lives of 4,090 Massachusetts residents and infected 69,087 people, according to the state Department of Public Health, which updates the tally daily around 4 p.m.