Atkinson's Market Ketchum

An employee at Albertsons grocery store in Hailey has tested positive for COVID-19, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed this week.

The employee, who had not worked at the Hailey store since March 17, is receiving medical care, spokeswoman Kathy Holland said Tuesday. She did not say when the employee was tested or when the test results came back.

Grocery stores, which are recognized as “essential” businesses in Idaho, have remained open in Blaine County and across the state amid mandated statewide closures. Now local grocery stores are taking extra precautions to keep the coronavirus from spreading among shoppers and staff, as glass shields go up, additional cleaning staff is brought in and pick-up and delivery services become increasingly popular.

The Albertsons store in Hailey “has been through multiple cycles of our enhanced cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting process” since March 17, Holland said.

“In an abundance of caution, we conducted a thorough cleaning and disinfection with guidance from third-party sanitation experts,” she said.

The store will remain open and will keep following an “enhanced cleaning and disinfection process” in each department, she said.

Albertsons has reminded all employees to wash their hands, disinfect check stands every hour and practice social distancing, according to Holland. The company is asking employees to stay home and call a health-care provider if they develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness.

At Village Market in Ketchum, additional cashiers have been added to shorten lines, store Director Dave Mondavi said. The store has also closed public restrooms, distributed gloves to employees and brought on several new hires to sanitize the store.

If an employee has COVID-19 symptoms, the store is urging them to get in touch with a health-care provider, Mondavi said. Employees who are sick with a fever must wait 72 hours after their fever has passed and must provide a doctor’s note before coming back to work.

“It’s not like it was before,” Mondavi said. “We need to know. We’ve got to see it from a doctor that you’re OK to work around other people, because there’s going to be times you can’t observe that 6-foot rule.”

He said employees who don’t have a fever are welcome to come back to work. The store has also offered incentives for employees who are healthy to come in to work.

Full-time store employees receive paid time off as part of their benefits package, Mondavi said.

Chip Atkinson, president of Atkinsons’ Markets, told the Mountain Express on Thursday that he was not aware of any Atkinsons’ employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Still, he said, he suspects that some employees may have had the virus.

“In many ways, the presumption is if someone’s home not feeling well, they may have it,” Atkinson said.

The small Wood River Valley-based chain now has a new priority: keeping shoppers out of its stores. Atkinsons’ stores have seen an increase in demand for delivery and pick-up services the past few weeks, Atkinson said. Both services were available before the pandemic.

For shoppers who do come into the store, there are glass shields at the check-out counters and signs encouraging people to keep their distance from one another and not to linger.

“It’s sometimes like herding cats, though, to encourage social distancing,” Atkinson said.

Employees who come to work feeling ill are instantly sent home, he said. The company has instituted some new policies to give employees sick pay, he said, and he expects that new measures in the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act will also bring changes to the company’s sick leave policy.

The company is now navigating another new challenge: how to help employees who are worried about coming into work for fear of threats to their own health and safety, but who are not showing signs of illness themselves.

“It’s hard. We understand people have fear,” Atkinson said. “We’re all kind of managing new things. But it’s a spectacular group of people who have stepped up [to work]. And I really hope the community recognizes what they have done.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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