23 Detroit Whole Foods employees test positive aft...

23 Detroit Whole Foods employees test positive after COVID-19 outbreak, city confirms

The store closed early Tuesday for cleaning and requires employees to receive negative tests before returning to work.

Person shopping at Whole Foods in front of store sign.

Publicity photo via Whole Foods Market®

Nearly two dozen employees of the Whole Foods Market in Midtown Detroit have tested positive for COVID-19 after a recent outbreak, Detroit Health Department Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said Thursday. The store closed early Tuesday and opened late Wednesday for a professional deep cleaning before resuming normal business hours, Whole Foods Market confirmed.

“Upon being informed of positive cases at Whole Foods, the Detroit Health Department team acted immediately to address this outbreak by offering rapid testing to all employees,” Fair said in an email. “So far, 23 employees out of 196 have tested positive. We have received a commitment from Whole Foods that no workers or close contacts of any employee who has tested positive will be allowed back to work until they have produced a negative test result.”  

The city nor the company immediately provided details about the date and origin of the outbreak.

“It was a verrryy stressful feeling there, and I was told by management on Monday ‘it’s not team members who have it,’ which was contrary to what I was hearing from other staff,” a Whole Foods staffer who asked to remain anonymous told Detour by text. “When I worked Monday I saw many, many customers and staff wearing their masks incorrectly and/or not social distancing. I think store leadership could have done a lot more to prevent this, including being more transparent about what was going on.”

Whole Foods staffers who test positive are eligible for up to two weeks of paid time off. In the pandemic, the company has also mandated social distancing and crowd control measures; temperature checks and face masks for employees; and enhanced daily cleanliness and disinfection protocols.

“The safety of our Team Members and customers remains our top priority, which is why we address any confirmed diagnosis in our stores with a comprehensive action plan that includes enhanced cleaning and contact tracing, as well as communicating directly with our Team Members,” a Whole Foods spokesperson said in a statement. “We support any Team Member who is diagnosed positive or placed in quarantine so they can prioritize their health and stay home. We have rolled out extensive measures to keep people safe in our stores and are diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities.”

Last March, a nationwide group of Whole Foods employees held a sickout to demand hazard pay and other protections. The company did increase wages, but the practice ended in June. In December, a Detroit Whole Foods worker sent a company wide email asking for hazard pay to be reinstated, as well as for health benefits for part-time employees.

Detroit’s public health officials urge people who are currently eligible for the vaccine to get the shot, stating, “This is a reminder to all grocery stores of the availability of vaccinations and the importance of getting their employees vaccinated to make sure this does not happen again.”

The city has administered 81,300 doses of the vaccine, including 6,200 for grocery store workers and food handlers. 

Learn more about scheduling a vaccine appointment in Detroit here.

Kate Abbey-Lambertz contributed reporting.

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter with a heart for people and their stories. A WDET Storymakers Fellow, she also writes for nonprofits and individuals through her small business Keen Composition.