Latest on Benicia Raley’s COVID-19 violations, store confirms at least one infected employee

[Editor: Note later correction,  highlighted in paragraph 12 below.  – R.S.]

Benicia Raley’s Supermarkets confirms COVID-19 case after holding maskless pot luck

Vallejo Times Herald, By Katy St. Clair, January 4, 2021
Raley’s Benicia holiday party, maskless employees, not socially distanced (Source: Raley’s Benicia Facebook, December 24, 2020 – posted here by the Benicia Independent, not Vallejo Times-Herald)

A memo sent to Raley’s Supermarkets staff at the Benicia branch on Sunday confirms that an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The store held an on-site pot luck holiday party on Dec. 24 in which several employees were pictured without masks.

“This is notice that an individual who was present at Raley’s 343 at 890 Southampton Rd., Benicia, CA, has tested positive for COVID-19,” the memo states. “The individual was last at the worksite on 12/24/20 and is currently self-isolating.”

The store received criticism after after pictures were posted to social media of the holiday pot luck which showed attendees sitting closely at tables without wearing masks.

An employee who spoke to the Times-Herald on condition of anonymity said that the person diagnosed with COVID-19 is “very ill” and was present at the event.

In the same memo, Raley’s Supermarkets said that it notified affected team members and carried out contact tracing for anyone who had been within 6 feet of the individual for longer than 15 minutes at a time. The store also said it would be contacting any vendors that had contact with the individual. In addition, the memo states that the store “performed necessary cleaning and disinfecting of the work areas and surfaces along the individual’s path of travel.”

Chelsea Minor, a spokesperson for Raley’s Supermarkets, said that the company acknowledges that the store did not follow procedure when it allowed a maskless potluck.

“We have taken action and coached appropriately,” she said.

A new California law went into effect on Jan. 1 that requires businesses to report to the county public health department if three or more people are diagnosed with COVID-19 within a 14-day period. It also requires employers to notify employees within one day of discovering that an employee has tested positive.

An employee told the Times-Herald on Dec. 31 that the COVID-19-infected employee had been at the holiday party and had tested positive several days before the store notified staff.

“It’s hard to believe that none of the managers knew what I knew,” the individual said.

According to the text of the law, AB 685, businesses  were not legally obligated to notify staff or the public of COVID-19 infections prior to this year.  The bill’s text states, “Reporting among workplaces in 2020 lacked “clarity as to an employer’s reporting requirements, including their own workforce. This deficiency has led to workers and members of the public living in fear for their own safety, unaware of where outbreaks may already be occurring.”

Raley’s Benicia holiday party, employees not socially distanced (Source: Raley’s Benicia Facebook, December 24, 2020 – posted here by the Benicia Independent, not Vallejo Times-Herald)

The Raley’s employee alleges that a manager spoke to them in confidence about at least 20 people at the Benicia Raley’s Supermarkets branch being diagnosed with COVID-19 since March of 2019.

Though Raley’s stated that people near the affected person were being isolated, an employee told the Times-Herald that two people who were seated near the infected person in the pot luck pictures remained on the job on Monday. It is not known how long those employees were exposed.

“They all sat back there for a long time,” said the employee. “It was over 15 minutes for sure. Some spent their whole lunch hour back there.”

Minor said that Raley’s has completed its initial screening process to see who had been exposed to the employee but that the process is ongoing.

“We are acting on that information that we have,” she said. “(Employees) should talk to their team leader and they should report it. And if they are in a predicament and feel like they could be exposed, they should report it.”

Word about the pot luck and reports of COVID-19 infections have prompted both the City of Benicia and Solano Public Health to investigate the store.

Calls to the public information officers at the public health department and county were not returned.