Health

Walmart temporarily shut nearly 60 US stores for COVID cleaning in December

The Walmart stores – in locations including Texas and
New Jersey – were closed for two days for cleaning “to present a safe and clean
in-store environment for our associates and customers,” a company
spokesperson told Reuters in a statement. Walmart has more than 4,700 US
locations in total.

The company made no comment on the potential impact of
the closures.

It adopted a policy two years ago at the start of the
coronavirus pandemic of closing stores for fewer than two days to “get ahead”
of potential outbreaks.

 “We’ve been
closely monitoring our stores across the country, making the decision to
temporarily close locations on a store-by-store basis through a collection of
market-related data,” the Walmart spokesperson said, declining to confirm that
there were staff COVID-19 cases at the closed locations.

The world’s biggest retailer also did not comment on
whether it was seeing an increase in workers testing positive for COVID-19.

The United States has seen a spike in cases of the
Omicron variant, leading retailers and restaurant chains to temporarily shutter
stores and limit access to customers.

One Laurel, Maryland, Walmart facility was closed last
week because that community was experiencing coronavirus cases, according to a memo
shown to Reuters by two Walmart workers. They said several people at the store
had contracted COVID-19, which Walmart declined to confirm.

If COVID-related store closures disrupt Walmart’s
operations into late January, they could begin to worry some investors, said
John Augustine, chief investment officer at Huntington Private Bank, which
invests in Walmart, Target and several other retailers.

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Walmart rival Target told Reuters it had not closed
any Target stores for sanitization or other COVID-related reasons since the
start of December. CVS said it had temporarily closed “fewer than 10 locations”
for “enhanced cleaning” in that period.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
recommends that retailers “close off areas used by the person who is sick and
do not use those areas until after cleaning and disinfecting”. The CDC does not
strictly recommend shutting stores.

Rising COVID-19 cases led Apple Inc to limit service
at some New York-area stores, including its iconic Fifth Avenue flagship. The
iPhone maker reduced operational hours from Monday to Thursday and limited the
number of customers allowed into the store, according to its website. The site
also showed that some Apple stores were temporarily closed in Georgia,
Tennessee and California.

It was not immediately clear why the stores were shut
and Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Apple gets about 5% of its
total sales from its retail locations, according to Wedbush analyst Daniel
Ives. With 516 stores around the world, that amounts to about $35 million in
sales per store, according to Reuters calculations.

Some restaurant owners said their businesses have been
affected, too.

In mid-December, when COVID-19 cases began to
skyrocket in New York City, pizzeria Bravo Pizza was forced to close for an
entire day because six employees were out sick, Bravo’s owner said.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City
Hospitality Alliance, said “dozens” of the city’s restaurants had temporarily
closed.

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Dan Jacobs, co-owner of DanDan and two other Milwaukee
restaurants, said his locations lost $80,000 of business between Christmas and
New Year’s Day as staff caught COVID-19 or called out because they were afraid
of getting sick.

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