Loblaw Companies Ltd. is reporting that at least 56 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since Christmas Eve at 43 stores it owns and operates in the Greater Toronto Area.
The retailer says it has recorded confirmed cases among workers at stores in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham and Whitby. In some stores, there have been more than one case.
The stores with the infected employees include Shoppers Drug Mart, No Frills, Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore and Fortinos.
"In these cases, we work closely with public health and follow their guidance to ensure proper notification of close contacts and required cleaning and sanitization in our stores," Loblaw Companies Ltd. said in a message on its website.
Each entry on a list on its website includes the date of the positive test, the last day that the infected employee or employees worked and the store's name and address.
In one entry on Dec. 31, Loblaw Companies Ltd. says "multiple team members" tested positive at Fortinos, 3940 Highway 7 in Vaughan, Ont. It doesn't say how many employees have COVID-19 at that store.
The stores fall under the jurisdiction of five public health units because they are located in Toronto, Peel, York, Durham and Halton regions.
On its COVID-19 page, which can be found here, Loblaw Companies Ltd. said it regularly updates its list of positive COVID-19 cases among employees in its stores according to province in the last 15 days.
But the company said it doesn't release personal information about employees for privacy reasons.
The company said it encourages employees to wear masks, particularly where physical distancing is not possible, and in many jurisdictions, its staff and customers are required to wear masks inside stores.
Expert says there's a need for safer workplaces
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and a member of the province's COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, told CBC's News Network that the number of cases in essential workplaces raises several issues.
"We have to have a good understanding of where these infections were acquired. Were they acquired at home and brought into the workplace? Or were they acquired in the workplace and then perhaps amplified at home? Regardless, we still have to create safer workplaces for people," Bogoch said.
Bogoch said the province needs to promote policies that would discourage employees from going to work while sick. Paid sick leave, including for people who have precarious jobs, would help to prevent spread of the virus, he added.
"Essential workers are essential."
Toronto Public Health to announce new workplace actions
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, said in her last remarks on Dec. 30 that Toronto Public Health will announce "additional actions" early this week that are designed to reduce the risk associated with COVID-19 in workplaces.
"These steps by Toronto Public Health are meant to create as much distance and safety as possible – while respecting many people need to work and many businesses are rightly permitted to continue operations in order to provide the goods and services we all need in daily life," De Villa said.
According to its website, Loblaw Companies Ltd. calls itself Canada's largest retailer.
It says it provides grocery, pharmacy, health, beauty, clothing and general merchandise as well as financial services and wireless mobile products and services. The retailer says it has more than 2,400 corporate, franchised and associate-owned locations in Canada.