Stew Leonard’s employee in Norwalk tests positive for coronavirus

Shoppers partonize Stew Leonard's Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Norwalk, Conn. A part-time employee has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Shoppers partonize Stew Leonard's Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Norwalk, Conn. A part-time employee has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK — A part-time employee at Stew Leonard’s has tested positive for COVID-19 and others are staying home due to potential exposure.

The employee of the Norwalk store stayed home after not feeling well more than a week ago, according to a post the store made on Facebook that was shared Wednesday in a Norwalk community group. Store managers were notified this week about the employee testing positive, the post read. Co-workers who were in contact with the employee were sent home to quarantine, according to the post.

The store has adjusted its hours, but has no plans to close. A spokeswoman for the store declined to provide the role of the employee who tested positive, citing privacy concerns.

Stew Leonard Jr. said employees of some of his other stores have also tested positive for the coronavirus, but he did not specify the locations. Leonard said a “handful” of employees across the grocery chain’s seven locations in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have also been quarantined.

“We’re no different than America right now,” Leonard said Wednesday. “We’re not any different than what’s happening out there. Unfortunately, all businesses that are open today...they’re all having the same issues. The people that work at Stew Leonard’s are part of the community.”

Leonard said employees who come into contact with someone with coronavirus for more than 10 minutes are asked to quarantine and not come to work for two weeks. The employees are given full benefits and pay during that period, he said.

Leonard said many of these employees are not exhibiting symptoms, but the policy is used as a precaution. The company is now hiring more people to fill the gaps.

The grocery store chain is closing early for the first time in its 50 years to deep clean each of its locations nightly, Leonard said. The stores are closing at 8 p.m. each night so shopping carts and registers can be scrubbed, and buttons, door knobs and work surfaces are wiped. The company has also allowed employees to adjust their hours and work stations to limit exposure.

The stores have also installed plexiglass at the registers and in other areas to help protect customers and employees, as well as doing “cleaning blitzes” every two hours where all surfaces are cleaned.

“We’re doing everything in the store we can to keep distancing,” Leonard said, adding the cleaning goes above CDC standards.

Meghan Bell, a spokeswoman for Stew Leonard’s, declined to say whether the cleaning and protective measures are in response to employees testing positive for the coronavirus.

“We’ve been monitoring the pandemic closely and have been making changes almost daily in response since the beginning of March,” she said.

Stew Leonard’s and all stores that remain open in Norwalk were ordered this week by Mayor Harry Rilling to reduce the number of people allowed inside.

Rilling’s latest orders came after a 60 percent increase in confirmed cases over the weekend. Norwalk now has more than 300 cases and 15 city residents have died.

Rilling’s order also recommends only one member of each family to go shopping at once. Lamont has recommended the same practice for everyone going to stores in Connecticut.

“I thought (the customers) were going to get sort of angry with us, but instead it’s no problem,” Leonard said. “Everybody understands the situation right now. Everybody is trying to do their part to help prevent this epidemic we have.”