Despite a lung disease, the 72-year-old woman in Aurora, Colorado, had to get her paycheck, according to her sister, Paula Spellman. Her husband, Gus, was injured and unemployed, and the couple had bills to pay.
Kunz died on April 20 of complications from the coronavirus, said his sister. Gus, who was also sick with the virus, died two days before his wife.
While it is not clear how the couple contracted the virus, Spellman said his sister had expressed concerns about Walmart customers coughing against her at the cash register.
“I wish she didn’t work there. I wish she had taken her leave, “said Spellman. “I get angry because she should have been more protected. “
The cash register has become the most dangerous place in the store, according to public health and worker safety experts. Every item cashiers touch, scan and carry has been handled by customers and other workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it is possible for someone to get a coronavirus by touching a surface or object infected with the virus.
The work also involves being away from clients all day rather than the six feet recommended by the CDC, making social distance almost impossible, the experts said. The risks for buyers also increase when they go to the registry. If a cashier is infected, the employee can pass it on to customers.
“The cashier location is always the most dangerous because every customer walks into this area and stays there for a while while the grocery store goes down the counter,” said Brandon Brown, epidemiologist at the University of California at Riverside.
According to the CDC, the virus can spread between people interacting nearby, even if they have no symptoms.
“The workers most at risk are the workers who have the most direct contact with others,” said Brian Brown-Cashdollar, program director at the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health, a safety advocacy group. workers. Cashiers “are the most exposed”.
Spellman says his sister has raised concerns with him about working behind the maskless register. Walmart said it made masks available to workers in late March, including in the Kunz store, and began forcing workers to wear them on April 20.
A Walmart spokesperson said, “Our hearts go to Sandy Kunz and her family. His loss shows the devastating impact of the COVID-19 virus. “
Walmart added that in addition to offering masks to employees, the store had taken other measures earlier in March, such as adding social distancing markers and more frequent cleaning of payment channels and cash registers . The store installed sneeze guards and began limiting the number of customers inside the store earlier in April.
Retailers have stepped up their security measures as CDC virus guidelines evolve. In addition to Walmart ((, )Target ((, )Kroger ((, Whole Foods and others have installed sneeze guards on payment lanes and added social distance markers to the lines. Retailers limit the number of customers inside the store at a time and frequently disinfect payment points. Businesses are also expanding the use of contactless payment options so customers don’t have to touch screens or grab their pins. )
Some public health experts and union advocates believe that the measures are not strict enough to protect cashiers, other employees and customers. For example, large retailers like Kroger, Target and Whole Foods do not require customers to wear masks, except in the states and cities where they are required. And workers complain that the requirements are often not met.
Sneeze protectors and self-checkout
Although the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration says stores should consider opening another cash register to keep workers safe, this is not a requirement and many stores do not. Take that step, said John Grant, president of United Food Local 770. and commercial workers in California, who represent 20,000 grocers. About 27% of the workers in the local who became ill were cashiers, said Grant.
Eric Feigl-Ding, epidemiologist and health economist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, said that cashiers “need N95 masks as much as health workers”. He believes that all stores should also give their cashiers face shields because many coronavirus carriers are asymptomatic. Stores in China are disinfecting cash, and the United States “should do it at some point.”
Cashiers also say that the limits on the number of customers inside stores are applied unevenly and that it is difficult to separate customers into lines. At Walz de Kunz in Aurora, for example, the local public health department briefly ordered the store to be closed partly due to complaints of “lack of social distancing” and “too many people in the store at one time”. The department has since authorized the store to reopen and said it had “good safety and health measures in place.”
The plexiglass barriers that companies have erected are of limited help, say some cashiers, as customers lean over or around the barriers to speak to them.
“It doesn’t cover us properly,” said a Target cashier in Louisiana, affiliated with the workers’ defense group Target Workers Unite, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals. “There is a considerable difference in the plexiglass on each register. “
A Target representative declined to comment on the plexiglass, but said “we have introduced dozens of new security measures in our stores”, including reminding customers, via loudspeakers, to abide by social distancing rules.
“In any situation, if a team member feels uncomfortable performing a specific task, we encourage him to have a conversation with his leader to determine if there are other tasks that it could perform, “said the retailer.
In recent years, companies have expanded the use of automatic teller machines, but there are also risks. “Self-payment can make physical distance difficult because of the frequent need for customer support,” says the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration in its guidelines.
Employees must clean up stations after each customer, retail workers say, and managing liquor purchases is particularly difficult. This is because a worker has to come and ask the client for ID, the client has to remove a mask, and then the worker has to check to make sure they match.
There are other concerns: “When self-paying, customers tend to clutter you up when they need help, even with reminders of social distancing,” said a target worker in Carolina Nord who is behind the part-time cash register and also helps with self-payment. . This employee spoke on condition of anonymity. The target declined to comment.