A 56-year-old woman decided to have some tacos with her co-workers at a Chicago-area warehouse in October, and died just over one week later from COVID-19.
Twenty-three other employees also tested positive for the virus in the days following the taco luncheon, and the Midwest Warehouse and Distribution System office in Naperville, Illinois was temporarily shut down on November 4.
Now, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration says it is fining the company $12,288 for failing to ‘take immediate steps to identify, inform, isolate and quarantine all potentially-exposed employees.’
The outbreak began after an employee volunteered to pick up tacos for her co-workers after getting permission from one of her supervisors for a luncheon on October 23, Midwest Warehouse and Distribution System CFO Tim Nelson told the Chicago Tribune.
More than 23 employees at a Naperville, Illinois warehouse tested positive for the coronavirus in November, after an employee brought her co-workers tacos
Some employees ate the tacos at their desks, but others enjoyed them in the break room
The tacos were individually-wrapped, according to Aaron Gelb, a Chicago-based lawyer who will represent the company at an upcoming hearing to contest the fine.
Some employees took the tacos back to their desks, he said, and others ate them in the break room.
The following Monday, Nelson recounted, some employees began to call in sick, and the first COVID case was confirmed the following day.
The 56-year-old female employee, whom company officials would not name, died on November 3 from complications of the viral disease.
‘The individual who passed away was the second person to report symptoms,’ Nelson said. ‘It’s not like someone who contracted it a week later while continuing to work at the facility.’
But by November 9, 23 employees had tested positive for the virus.
‘This case is a tragic reminder of the importance of fully implementing coronavirus prevention measures that include wearing face coverings, physically distancing and quarantining workers who exhibit symptoms to protect other workers from coronavirus exposure,’ Jake Scott, the OSHA area director, said in a statement.
Aaron Gelb is representing the company in its hearing contesting the fine
Company executives, however, said they had followed all of their safety protocols, which include taking every employee’s temperature upon arrival, mandating every employee wear masks and social distance ‘wherever feasible,’ according to Gelb.
They are not allowed to share any food until the pandemic is declared over, Nelson added.
‘As a company, safety has always been a paramount pillar of our company and we’ve taken COVID seriously since day one,’ he told the Chicago Sun Times.
‘We’ve always felt like we’ve been on the cutting-edge of OSHA standards,’ he said. ‘We strictly adhere to CDC guidelines. Safety is of vast importance to our company.’
Midwest Warehouse and Distribution System has more than 500 employees at more than a dozen Chicago-area warehouses, according to the Chicago Tribune. At the Naperville location, there are more than 100 warehouse employees and 20 office workers.
This is the only serious outbreak the 39-year-old logistics company has had since the pandemic began.
‘We value the safety and well-being of our associates first and foremost,’ said Nelson.
‘This OSHA citation is just disheartening.’