Some of the 80 or so confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yellowstone County have been grocery store workers.
"Like many of our neighbors in Billings, COVID-19 has touched our own Albertsons family with confirmed diagnoses among our associates," Kathy Holland, a spokesman for Albertsons Companies, Inc., based in Boise, Idaho, said in a statement.
Albertsons, which has six stores in Billings, is the largest grocery chain in town. WinCo, which opened just over a year ago, has one location and Walmart has two. Billings' Costco, Target and Sam's Club stores are among those that also sell groceries.
Grocery store workers are notably at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. While much of Montana was shut down in March and April, grocery stores as an essential service remained open and busy, which increased the likelihood of exposure for employees.
Officials with RiverStone Health, the county's public health department, wouldn't say exactly how many grocery store workers in the county had been infected or at which stores they may have worked, citing privacy concerns.
"As part of our contact tracing investigation, we try to determine where people may have become ill," said Barbara Schneeman, spokeswoman for RiverStone. "By releasing information about the number of people per industry, or just one industry, we make the assumption that the people infected got the disease at work, and we run the very probable risk of stigmatizing that industry and the people who work there."
She went on explain that legally the county health department is barred from disclosing "the names, occupations or any other information about people who test positive for COVID-19."
Albertsons also declined to say how many of its employees in Billings had gotten sick with COVID-19, but noted that it has dedicated a number of services to make sure employees are protected and receive help.
"A nurse from our Crisis Response Center contacts the associate to ensure they are seeking appropriate medical care and to initiate a close contacts investigation," Holland said.
Other employees may be required to self-quarantine and crews at the store then implement a specialized cleaning and disinfecting process.
Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 also receive two weeks of replacement pay while they are unable to work and employees who are asked to self-quarantine also receive up to 14 days of quarantine pay, Holland said.
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