Maskless holiday party at Benicia Raley’s draws concernVallejo Times-Herald, by Katy St. Clair, December 31, 2020
It began with a social media post of various employees of a Raley’s store in Benicia, smiling for pictures around tables at a potluck holiday party on Christmas Eve — many not wearing masks.
The usual comments began — people horrified that a store would ignore both social distancing and masks, especially while eating. Then “anti-maskers” chimed in about how the virus is overblown. Most importantly, rumors began to spread that several employees at the Benicia store have been out sick.
One employee of Raley’s told the Times-Herald that at least one person at the potluck has contracted COVID-19.
“I was told by a manager in confidence that there have been 21 people total who have gotten COVID-19 who work here,” said the employee. “They are trying to keep it a secret.”
The employee spoke to the Times-Herald on condition of anonymity.
City of Benicia officials say they were told by store management that the store was “currently are not aware of any cases.”
Richard Rodriguez, team leader and general manager at the Benicia Raley’s, denies that 20 employees have been sick with COVID-19.
“No,” he laughed, “that’s not true not at all,” but he said that all further questions should be directed to Ashley Campas at the corporate office, who was not available for comment.
The city, meanwhile, released a statement about the store:
“It has been brought to our attention … that word is spreading on social media of a large number of employees at Raley’s testing positive for COVID-19 … City staff have contacted management and they have indicated that they currently are not aware of any positive cases, although a potluck was held over the holidays.”
“It’s a lie. It’s just a lie,” said the employee. “And that’s what’s concerning me. With everybody that is sick now — the first COVID case here was back in March, so you have to understand that this has been going on for a long time.”
“The city is aware of the party that was held at Raley’s and the concern it has generated,” Mayor Steve Young told the Times-Herald. “We are waiting for confirmation as to whether there are, in fact, employees who have tested positive. Our first concern remains the health and safety of the community as well as the workers.”
The Benicia Independent says that the Solano County Public Health department is investigating, something the Times-Herald has yet to be able to corroborate. But photos show that the store has gone against state regulations for essential workers, with employees at the potluck not wearing protective face coverings and gloves. The State of California requires that all employees wear face masks or coverings at all times.
As for the denial from store general manager Rodriguez, the employee was miffed that their manager would laugh at the question.
“It hurts my heart that the management thinks this is funny or is a joke,” they said, adding that many there feel that they have to live with the risks involved with working there because they need the job. According to the source, they aren’t given gloves by the store and there is no organization around getting masks or other precautionary things.
“The health department came in yesterday so guess what? I got my temperature taken today and we suddenly have hand sanitizer.”
“In the midst of this dangerous surge of the virus, it is so important that every business and citizen respects and follows the safety protocols put in place for our protection,” Young said.