COVID-19: Mask Use Rare at Aurora Walmart Linked to Three Deaths

Outside the Walmart at 14000 East Exposition in Aurora.
Outside the Walmart at 14000 East Exposition in Aurora. Google Maps
Editor's note: The Tri-County Health Department allowed the Aurora Walmart store at 14000 East Exposition to reopen on April 26. Continue for our previous coverage.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has hit home in Aurora, where on April 23 the Tri-County Health Department closed the Walmart branch at 14000 East Exposition, which has been connected to three deaths, including one involving an employee. The move was made amid complaints about a severe lack of mask use.

Meanwhile, we've noticed on visits to other local Walmart outlets that fewer and fewer customers seem to be wearing masks, whose use has become increasingly politicized of late. Moreover, the majority of Walmart employees tended to eschew masks, too, until April 17, when Governor Jared Polis made donning them mandatory for grocery workers.

In a release from Tri-County Health, the public-health authority for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties reveals that officials issued the closure order "after confirming the deaths of one employee, one third-party contracted employee, and a third death of the employee’s family member. There are six additional confirmed cases among employees, plus an additional three living suspect cases awaiting lab confirmation."

These elements more than meet the standards set by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for an outbreak location. The CDPHE's April 22 update on this subject showed 123 outbreaks at facilities in the state, including forty new ones in the previous week — but the Walmart at 140000 East Exposition wasn't included.

The Tri-County Health release noted that "the deaths include a 72-year-old female employee; her 63-year-old husband, who did not work at the store; and a 69-year-old male who worked for an independent security company. TCHD disease control staff has reached out to the other confirmed COVID-19 cases, but we do not have any information on the conditions of the other employees at this time."

Another factor in Tri-County Health's shutdown mandate: a series of complaints "from employees and shoppers regarding the lack of social distancing, too many people in the store at one time, and employees not wearing masks or face coverings."

These claims mirror what we've been seeing and hearing in recent weeks: the majority of employees at many stores skipping masks until being ordered to wear them, and more and more patrons going without face coverings. Then came April 19's Operation Gridlock, at which demonstrators gathered at the State Capitol to assert that the state's stay-at-home order impinged on their freedom. Few of the attendees at the rally wore masks or followed social-distancing guidelines.

Similar assertions regarding Walmarts across the state have popped up on social media. A sampling:
Rural Colorado. Went to Walmart the day after our gov advised wearing masks. Almost everyone was wearing one. Went yesterday — almost no one.

If you want to know what is wrong with social distancing and the numbers rising in #Colorado go to the
@Walmart off Woodman and Powers in #ColoradoSprings. It is FULL of people, less than half are wearing masks there is NO social distancing while ironically the pre recorded announcement asks customers for their patience as the limit the number of people allowed in the store at one time. THEY ARE NOT. You could not go down a single aisle without running into MULTIPLE people. Most without masks MANY with their kids. I saw one child pick up a toy and chew on it. Most Employees are not wearing masks or gloves.

Otero county Colorado isn't following your advisory...why do we have to be subjected to unsafe grocery stores because people don't like the governor so they aren't wearing a mask over a hoax. Safeway/Walmart need to be enforcing masks!

@Walmart Would love to see you guys protect everyone by requiring masks for both employees and customers. Walked in to a Denver Walmart this morning, nobody wearing a mask.

Colorado Grand Junction 7:30 am today. Rim Rock Walmart checker had no mask,no sense of distancing herself & the greeter outside said she didn't believe in masks. Less than 50% of customers had masks.

No one is staying in. And only probably 20% are wearing masks. Obviously just telling people isn’t working. Check out any Walmart in Aurora.
Staff who'd worked at the Walmart at 14000 East Exposition are said to be cooperating with the ongoing Tri-County Health Department investigation. But for the foreseeable future, no masks are needed at that store: It's closed.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts