July 28, 2021

As businesses reopen and shoppers return, coronavirus is rebounding, but government isn’t tracking retail-based outbreaks

With states around the country reopening, shoppers are returning to malls and visiting stores again, prompting worried public health officials to point to rebounding cases of infections in some regions. Yet despite the continued risk of the coronavirus, there is no system in place for tracking whether these establishments have been involved in an outbreak, according to experts who follow worker safety and a survey done by Yahoo News.

While retail stores don’t call for the same number of people per room as COVID-19 incubators like meatpacking plants, they do demand many hours of work in a single building, often with limited ventilation, sharing of common spaces and bathrooms and copious public interaction. Yet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the governmental body responsible for handling workplace-related injuries, including infectious diseases like COVID-19, has no system for keeping an up-to-date record of new cases.

“I think that the general consensus among unions is that OSHA has been a huge disappointment during this pandemic in protecting workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

People at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

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