SF Chronicle: Benicia Mayor Steve Young calls for action after Raley’s COVID-19 violations

Christmas Eve party at Benicia supermarket sparks COVID concerns

San Francisco Chronicle, by Michael Cabanatuan, Jan. 6, 2021

Days after a Christmas Eve party at a Raley’s supermarket in Benicia, one worker who attended it tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the city’s mayor to demand the store let its staff and the public know what steps are being taken in response.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Mayor Steve Young, in a video posted to YouTube Tuesday, cited social media and press reports of the Christmas Eve dinner, laid out for employees on their breaks, and demanded action from the Sacramento supermarket chain.

“At a minimum, Raley’s needs to be transparent, needs to tell employees what is happening, needs to tell the public what is happening,” the mayor said.

He also called on the Sacramento supermarket chain to send home and quarantine — with pay — all workers who are exposed to someone who tests positive and to provide them with free COVID-19 tests. Young also suggested Raley’s establish a routine testing program for its workers.

Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor acknowledged that the party took place on Christmas Eve, violated company and health department protocols, and that one person has since tested positive, is quarantining and hasn’t been in the store since the party.

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“We take full responsibility but by no means were we suppressing information,” she said. Raley’s has posted all positive tests on its website since March, she said, and the lone positive test that may have stemmed from the party was the sixth postive test at the Benicia store.

The supermarket, at 890 Southampton Road, held an informal Christmas Eve party for its employees in the store, providing them with food. Attendees reportedly sat close to each other and didn’t wear masks, at least while dining. Photos of the party were posted on the supermarket’s Facebook page, but have since been removed. A Facebook commenter later reposted the pictures.

A couple of days after the party, the mayor said, a Raley’s manager came down sick with flu symptoms then tested positive for the coronavirus. Word of the ill-fated party spread on social media, prompting concerns among employees, who complained on social media that they hadn’t been informed of the manager’s positive test, as well as customers.

“The manager who went out sick right after the party, there were a number of people who were photographed sitting close to him and those people are still working,” the mayor said in his statement.

Minor, who spoke to the Benicia City Council on Tuesday night, said the company has followed proper protocol, and most of the mayor’s wishes, once it learned that the employee developed symptoms. She said the employee last worked on the day of the party, stayed home after he became sick, was tested for the coronavirus and received a positive test result on Jan. 2.

She said the chain allows employees who are concerned about a positive exposure to take paid days off to quarantine and pays for testing. She said a regular testing program may be considered short-term at the Benicia store.

“We’ll do what we need to do to restore the faith of our customers,” Minor said.

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.