As people crowded grocery and drugstores last week to prepare for COVID-19, some of them put themselves directly in the virus' path, according to the Erie County Department of Health.
People who tested positive for coronavirus visited Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga March 10, Wegmans on Alberta Drive in Amherst from 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 11, Aldi on Transit Road in Depew around 6:30 p.m. March 12 and Rite Aid from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on North Buffalo Road in Orchard Park March 13.
Merchants at Walden Galleria appeared irritated at management's response to the mall's coronavirus exposure. The mall previously sent a notice saying it had stepped up measures to clean and sanitize common areas, but has not notified stores that the Walden Galleria was on the exposure list.
"I've been seeing the same cleaning people with carts that I've been seeing for years," said Kim Streer, manager of the Made in America store at Walden Galleria. "If they're out there sanitizing, I haven't seen it."
Some merchants planned to close early Monday and were still waiting to hear from mall management whether they would be fined for doing so. The Walden Galleria told The News it would not fine stores for closing early. More than 30 stores and restaurants have already closed.
When asked about mall merchants' concerns about its cleaning procedures, mall spokesperson Alex Corbelli reiterated that the Galleria is communicating with the Erie County Department of Health and has stepped up its cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
But, while traffic was slightly lighter than usual at the mall, people still showed up and shopped. There were families with babies in strollers, and the usual crew of mall-walking seniors still met for coffee in the food court. One 80-year-old walker, however, said Monday would be his last day for a while.
Rite Aid's corporate offices were unaware of the situation at its North Buffalo Road store in Orchard Park. Once alerted by a reporter, however, it first said it would close the store; then decided to keep the store open but dispatch a third-party cleaning crew. That's in addition to daily preventative deep cleaning the store has already put into place.
Employees are being advised to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19. If symptoms arise, the company has a "pandemic pay policy" in place in addition to its regular time off and sick pay policies, said Rite Aid spokesperson Christopher Savarese.
"While we are taking every step to keep our stores operating, we are also being as flexible as possible with our associates who are unable to come to work by adding extra administrative leave options," he said.
Wegmans said it is continuing to work closely with the Erie County Department of Health and follow its direction. It also put deep clean and sanitizing procedures into place at all of its stores weeks ago, after consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local health officials, said Wegmans spokesperson Michele Mehaffy.
“We have this customer and their family in our thoughts, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to protect our customers and employees in all of our stores,” Mehaffy said.
The health department advises anyone who visited those locations during those dates and times to monitor themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever and shortness of breath. Symptoms can appear from two to 14 days after exposure.