NOTE: This story has been updated with additional information provided by Meghan Flynn, Director of Communications for The Fresh Market.
An individual who works in the Fresh Market store at the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley in Center Valley, Lehigh County, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), employees learned on a company conference call earlier today.
Saucon Source learned of the disclosure from a source with firsthand knowledge of it. We are not naming the source because the individual was not authorized to disclose the information and could be subject to retribution.
“The community deserves to know (about this),” the source said.
At least one other employee who works closely with the infected employee is being tested and will be quarantined for the next two weeks, according to the source, who added that the entire store will be cleaned and sanitized by an outside company tonight.
In a phone call Monday afternoon, Fresh Market Director of Communications Meghan Flynn confirmed that an employee who works in the Center Valley store had tested positive for the virus; a test result she said the company learned of Sunday evening.
In response to that news, Flynn said the store received a deep cleaning by a third-party cleaning company Sunday night and will be specially cleaned again Monday night.
“We would not be open if we weren’t confident that we have followed all the protocols set forth by the CDC and public health recommendations,” she said.
Flynn said the Fresh Market has taken a proactive approach to cleaning ever since the coronavirus first appeared.
“Everything that we’ve been doing for the past month is for the safety of our employees and our guests,” she said, noting that employees take frequent handwashing breaks and perform “enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols.”
“(The virus) is easily killed by washing your hands with soap and water,” Flynn said, confirming something public health authorities have stressed since the outbreak began.
The Fresh Market was already planning to install Plexiglas sneezeguards at its registers, she said, and a company task force is continuously working to ensure that its cleaning and disinfection protocols are appropriate.
“We continue to reinforce the enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols throughout the store, including having dedicated team members to continually disinfect high touch point areas,” says a statement published on the company’s website. “Physical distancing visual guidance and signs have been posted in stores. Where mandated by local health authorities, we are limiting the number of guests allowed in our store at a time.”
Flynn said that to promote transparency, a sign about the employee who has tested positive for the virus and additional information will be posted on the store’s front door.
It will read:
Dear Valued Guests:
After learning that one of our team members who worked in our store tested positive for COVID-19, we immediately activated a deep cleaning and disinfection overnight, following public health recommendations.
These enhanced protocols ensures our store remains open to serve the community, keeping the health and wellbeing of our guests and team members as our top priority.
“(Customers) can feel confident that we have addressed the situation,” Flynn said.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health–which released an update on the number of cases at noon Monday–nearly 700 additional Pennsylvanians were confirmed to have the novel coronavirus within the preceding 24 hours. That puts the total number of confirmed cases in Pennsylvania at 4,087 as of mid-day Monday, and represents a 20.4 percent increase in the total number of cases since Sunday.
The Department of Health also reported that an additional 10 people have died from COVID-19, bringing the statewide death total to 48.
Individuals over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for developing complications from the disease, such as a life-threatening form of pneumonia.
As of Monday, Lehigh County had 231 confirmed cases of coronavirus and four confirmed deaths while Northampton County had 184 confirmed cases of the virus and five confirmed deaths from it. Bucks County now has nearly 250 confirmed cases and three deaths, all of which occurred over the weekend.
Lehigh and Northampton counties have been under a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf since Wednesday, March 25, while Philadelphia area counties have been under it for a week.
Under the order, which is currently in place across more than 20 counties, individuals are only permitted to leave home to perform essential work duties and for other reasons.
“Stay home as much as possible,” the Pennsylvania Department of Health has advised. “Try to get groceries once per week instead of daily.”
Residents are also advised not to host or attend gatherings, in order to help prevent the virus from spreading. Since schools and most businesses are closed that should be relatively easy to do, however in some cases the message is still being received. For example, on Friday the borough of Hellertown reminded residents that playgrounds and basketball courts in borough parks are closed, after groups were seen using them Friday.
How much the virus’s spread can be contained without further restrictions being implemented is a subject of some debate, and there have been calls for Wolf to expand the order and/or introduce more severe measures, as some other states have done.
One reason for the added concern is that community spread of the coronavirus has been confirmed in the Lehigh Valley, as well as in Monroe County and other parts of the state that are considered hotspots for it due to the rate at which new cases are being diagnosed and other factors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.”
It isn’t clear how the Fresh Market employee may have contracted the virus, however the store is one of a handful of businesses in the Promenade Shops that are still open.
Restaurants, bars and supermarkets are considered life-sustaining businesses and may remain open, however individuals must maintain social distancing when they visit them, which is why the dine-in areas of all local eateries are closed.
Many grocery stores have added or promoted curbside pickup or delivery of groceries as options in the past two weeks, as fewer customers want to venture out to purchase them.
Most grocery stores have so far not permitted employees to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facemasks at work, although some customers now wear them.
The Fresh Market on its website said its employees do not wear face masks because they “are only recommended for individuals who are sick to help contain the virus, or for the health care workers treating them. Because we do not permit any team member who is sick (even with a cold) to work in our store, we have advised all of our team members to not wear face masks for the simple reason that they are not effective as a protective measure.”
Similarly, the company said its employees who don’t handle food do not wear disposable gloves because they would not help prevent the spread of the virus.
“Wearing disposable gloves does not provide additional protection against viruses,” the statement said. “Since coronavirus is spread through droplets, gloves would not mitigate the transmission of this disease.”
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study recently found that the virus can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days, which it said “suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.”
According to information published on the CDC website, “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health advises the following on its site.
Human coronaviruses spread just like the flu or a cold:
- Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- Through the air by coughing or sneezing
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it
- Occasionally, fecal contamination
For more information about COVID-19 and how it is spread, visit the Department of Health’s coronavirus site.