Costco coronavirus outbreak in Washington prompts demand for vaccine for frontline employees

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A labor union representing 1.3 million workers in the United States is demanding better safeguards for frontline grocery workers as well as "guaranteed" access to vaccines as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers union raised concerns for grocery workers who "put themselves in harm’s way to feed our families" after nearly 150 employees at a Costco in Washington state tested positive right around the holidays.

Even though 145 people from the Union Gap location are quarantining, the store will remain open while officials continue to investigate the "sharp increase" in cases.

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Marc Perrone, UFCW International president, expressed concern over the surge in infections at the location, saying that "workers are continuing to get sick and die as they help to keep our food supply secure."

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To better protect them, "UFCW is calling on grocery CEOs to immediately work with governors to guarantee access to the vaccine for their frontline employees," he said.

Roughly 116 union members nationwide have died from the coronavirus and over 20,000 have been infected or exposed amid the new COVID-19 surge, the organization said.

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In October, as infections began to resurge around the nation, researchers from Harvard University found that alongside health care workers, grocery store employees faced a heightened risk of infection.

CORONAVIRUS INFECTS NEARLY 150 COSTCO EMPLOYEES AT WASHINGTON STATE STORE, LOCATION TO REMAIN OPEN

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that 20% of 104 grocery workers tested positive at a store in Massachusetts. Authors of the study noted that this infection rate was “significantly higher than the surrounding communities."

A federal advisory panel initially declared that the first batch of vaccines is being allocated for care workers and nursing home residents.

However, at the end of December, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices decided that people age 75 and older, as well as certain frontline workers, should be the next in line. This includes essential workers like firefighters, teachers and grocery store workers.

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Those workers are considered at very high risk of infection because their jobs are critical and require them to be in regular contact with other people.

However, it’s not clear how long it will take to vaccinate those groups. Vaccine doses have come out slower than earlier projections.

'ALARMING RATE' OF CORONAVIRUS INFECTION AMONG GROCERY STORE WORKERS, STUDY FINDS

In the meantime, Perrone noted that to prevent outbreaks from occurring, employers must keep their staff informed.

"That is the only [way] to stop outbreaks like this," Perrone said.

Representatives for Costco did not respond to FOX Business' request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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