As the number of coronavirus cases soars in Southern California, the supermarket industry is getting hit harder than ever, according to data obtained by the NBC4 I-Team.

The data shows there have been COVID-19 outbreaks at more than 137 Los Angeles area supermarkets in November and December, the largest number of cases since the pandemic began, according to the grocery workers union, which compiled the data and shared it with supermarket chains.

The data shows at least 854 supermarket workers in LA County alone have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two months.

“It’s basically spiraling out of control,” says Kathy Finn of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. “We have so many cases, so many cases. More than at any other time in the pandemic.”

There are now so many cases of COVID-19 among supermarket workers that LA County Public Health Department (DPH) officials say they are inundated with requests to investigate the outbreaks.

“We’re no longer able to investigate every single outbreak,” says DPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

Investigations by DPH sometimes prompt changes in store practices, which can slow the spread of the virus at markets.

Data obtained by the I-Team shows in the last two months, there have been outbreaks at 48 LA County Ralphs, 24 Vons, seven Albertsons and six Pavilions. There have also been recent outbreaks at  three Trader Joe’s and at two Whole Foods stores, according to DPH’s website.

Some supermarket workers believe they got the virus at their stores.

“It’s so busy in the stores and there’s so many people, we were bound to get it,” says Bertha Montes, a bakery worker at the Ralphs on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, who is battling COVID-19 that she thinks she got at work.

Montes says she unknowingly spread the virus to her husband, daughter and grandson, who all live with her.

“I felt so guilty,” Montes told the I-Team.

The Albertsons company, which owns Vons, Pavilions, and Albertsons stores, told the I-Team in a statement that “our stores have taken many precautions” to prevent customers and employees from getting sick.

Those precautions include plexiglass sneeze guards at check out stands and placing social distancing signs throughout the store. Albertsons says it’s also installing kiosks that will check employees temperatures when they clock in.

Ralphs did not respond to the I-Team’s request for comment. But in past months, Ralphs has told NBC4 it too has taken precautions, such as plexiglass shields and frequently sanitizing stores.

Ralphs workers say they now get paid time off if they want to get tested for COVID-19, but their union thinks all grocery chains should go a step further and do regular on-site testing of employees, like TV and movie productions now do.

“There should be rapid testing of everyone on a regular basis, I mean once a week,” says the UFCW’s Kathy Finn.

Source: NBC 4 Los Angeles