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Aurora Walmart ordered to close after three COVID-19 deaths linked to store

The Tri-County Health Department closed the Walmart off East Exposition in Aurora on Thursday, due to an outbreak of the virus

AURORA, Colo. — A husband and wife are two of the deaths linked to an outbreak of COVID-19 at an Aurora Walmart.

Family members confirmed Sandy and Gus Kunz died just two days apart, after contracting the virus.

Family members said Sandy Kunz, 72, was an employee at the Walmart off East Exposition in Aurora, which was closed Thursday by the Tri-County Health Department (TCHD). TCHD said it received complaints from employees and customers about the lack of social distancing and employees wearing masks.

Gus Kunz, 63, did not work at the store.

Paula Spellman, Sandy's sister, said the couple spent more than 25 years together.

“Sandy and Gus loved nature and were a happy couple; they both left the earth together,” reads an online obituary.

TCHD said a third person connected to the Walmart also died, a 69-year old man who worked for an independent security company. On Friday, the health department said an additional 11 people connected to the store have tested positive for COVID-19.

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TCHD said a third-party contractor deep cleaned the store overnight after it closed Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Walmart provided an emailed statement on Friday:

“The Tri-County Health Department has advised us to temporarily close our store at 14000 E Exposition Ave in Aurora. Colorado has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, and several associates at this store have tested positive. Sadly, one of our associates has passed away. The temporary closure will allow third-party cleaning experts to further clean and sanitize the store. We recognize how hard this is for our associates in Aurora and everyone impacted by this difficult situation. We want to do everything we can to support them at this time. We will continue to work closely with Tri-County Health Department and take additional steps as needed to re-open the store.”

The spokeswoman said this Walmart had several safety measures in place, prior to the closure, including:

  • Plexiglass barriers at checkout lanes
  • Floor decals at entrances and check out lanes to help customers judge social distancing
  • Limiting the number of customers in the store at the same time
  • Temperature checks, basic health screenings and mask/face covering requirements for employees
  • Encouraging customers to wear masks while shopping

In order to reopen, Tri-County Health Department says Walmart will have to meet several requirements:

  • A deep cleaning and disinfection of the entire store
  • “Robust and reliable” structure for employee screening for illness, tracking employee illness and reporting to TCHD
  • Reporting new positives to TCHD
  • Employee education and training for COVID infection prevention measures
  • “Confidence” from TCHD in “the supervision of the systems in place to ensure a safe environment”

Jessie Metcalf says she has worked at the store for five years, as a cashier. She said things started to change as the virus spread through Colorado.

“[Walmart] told us we had to start wearing gloves and our masks, then they started taking our temperature every day,” the 66-year-old said. “But I was still under the impression, I didn’t think that the virus was there.”

Metcalf said employees knew some of their co-workers had become sick or were taking time off, but she said Walmart did not disclose the details. She would later learn about the positive cases and deaths.

Metcalf said she is concerned about being exposed herself, and the exposure to customers.

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"We should have been told about [positive cases] the first time it happened,” she said. “So we could decide on our own if we want to stay there and risk our lives or stay home.”

“I don’t think Walmart was doing everything they could to take care of the customers' benefit and our benefit,” she added.

Even though she said she feels healthy today, with no symptoms, she is worried about tomorrow.

“I’m probably going to go and try and get a test done, just to make sure I don’t have it. I don’t want to infect my family.

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