Should businesses be required to post COVID-19 case counts?
In January 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported alarming numbers of positive COVID-19 tests from popular businesses including Home Depot, Target, and Costco, with hundreds of staff members infected. Seven Costcos in the area had at least 15 infected staff, according to the Times.
The infected workplaces highlight a troubling fact: Despite social distancing messages outside and long lines to get in, simply going to get a bag of dog food or a new faucet could be a deadly exercise in Los Angeles. I saw why when I visited one of these Costco stores the day before the Times article came out. Crowds thronged in the aisles, masks weren’t fully enforced (one woman just had her shirt pulled up over her mouth, and it was slipping), and employees were not enforcing physical distancing rules in the store. Many customers there, no doubt, would have thought twice about shopping there that day if Costco had posted its positive cases by day prominently on the front door, or on a sign at the entrance. (In May, Buzzfeed News reported [add link] that the Costco corporation, facing criticism over employee deaths, began posting COVID-19 cases inside its stores, but few shoppers know about this or would even know where to find it.)
A more sensible approach would be for public health departments across the country to step in and mandate prominent daily postings that reveal COVID-19 cases among staff — especially for such high-traffic businesses. Where I live, in Los Angeles County, we are approaching a million COVID cases. We need to give customers basic public health information — and the option of going to a different store, if they deem the risk too high.
Logistically, it would be straightforward: A manager could simply print out a list of dates in the last two weeks with a COVID-positive test(s) among employees. This would give an indication about how many current employees in the store may have been exposed. Shoppers or diners would then be able to determine whether the increased risk, say, from a McDonalds that had two positives a week ago is worth it. If one grocery store s looks dicey, that might be the week to shop at another location or a farmer’s market instead.
The transparency and immediacy of this information would be well supplant the status quo, which is scattered posts on Nextdoor and Facebook with rumors about positive cases at the local Whole Foods or Food4Less. In the midst of a pandemic, consumers deserve better and…