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COVID-19: New King Soopers Death, but No Change in Mask Rule

An unmasked employee in a commercial saluting workers at Kroger, which recently announced that its $2-per-hour "hero" wage increase would end May 17 — a move decried by UFCW Local 7.
An unmasked employee in a commercial saluting workers at Kroger, which recently announced that its $2-per-hour "hero" wage increase would end May 17 — a move decried by UFCW Local 7.
Photo by Michael Roberts

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, an employee for the King Soopers branch at 1155 East Ninth Avenue, which was declared a COVID-19 outbreak last week, has died. Yet the union's call for the expansion of rules regarding mask use at grocery stores has not been answered. During a very busy period in the fight against the novel coronavirus, Colorado Governor Jared Polis extended several state regulations without adding new mask requirements to them.

On April 17, Polis had mandated that grocery workers interacting with customers wear facial coverings while on the job and don gloves whenever possible if they're provided by employers. The edict was scheduled to expire after thirty days, and in a letter to Polis made public last week, UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova asked that Polis not only renew the original policy, but broaden its scope to require that "customers, employees and other entrants, including suppliers or vendors, in all retail grocery facilities wear masks throughout the state."

Among the reasons for this request: By the union's count, at least 64 UFCW members working in Colorado grocery stores have tested positive for COVID-19, and seven have died. Of that total, 54 cases and one death are associated with Kroger, owner of King Soopers.

The fatality figures have now grown. Late on May 17, UFCW Local 7 revealed the death of Randy Navaez, an employee at the Capitol Hill King Soopers, the most iconic grocery store in the Mile High City. In the announcement, the union said that there have been "approximately twelve cases of COVID among employees" at the location, four more than counted by Colorado public-health officials, and demanded a temporary closure "to properly clean and disinfect the entire store to ensure worker and customer safety, and to test every worker for COVID-19 prior to reopening."

This request came the day after Polis signed an executive order on May 16 that keeps the previous language regarding face coverings in place for another thirty days without requiring mask use by patrons or other people entering grocery stores across the state. (Denver and several other local jurisdictions do require masks for everyone in such locations.)

Other executive orders announced by the governor's office over the weekend include one "authorizing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to reallocate existing funds from contracts with local public health agencies to COVID-19 response activities," another "suspending certain statutes that will allow Coloradans to remain eligible for critical programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Basic Health Plan," and a third "extending certain state income tax payment deadlines until July 15, 2020, for all Colorado taxpayers to quickly provide relief from payment and penalties."

Meanwhile, Polis made headlines with his May 17 appearance on Fox News Sunday. Here's a clip:

Locally, Polis's prediction that Colorado schools will offer a hybrid model this fall in which remote learning will be paired with on-site education earned the most attention. But Fox News labeled its own piece "Colorado Gov. Polis pushes back against CDC's coronavirus death counts."

Why? Of late, a regular conservative talking point has involved claims that COVID-19 fatalities calculated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are inflated — and this assertion flared in Colorado after the coroner in Montezuma County said that a man with the virus had been included in state data even though he'd actually died from alcohol-related causes. During his May 15 press conference, Polis said a statistical distinction should be made between people who died with COVID-19 and those who perished from it — though he predicted that the fatality-count differences would be minor.

Not so much. Later on May 15, the CDPHE revised Colorado's death total downward by nearly 300. Its explanation:

To date, its data dashboard included deaths among all people who had COVID-19 at the time of death. This included deaths caused by COVID-19 and deaths among people who had COVID-19 at the time of death, but the cause or causes may not have been attributed to COVID-19 on the death certificate. This is the standard way states report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Going forward, the state will present both numbers: Deaths among COVID-19 cases and deaths due to COVID-19. Data is available on the dashboard available at covid19.colorado.gov/data/case-data. As of May 15, the state reported 1,150 deaths among people who have COVID-19. The number of deaths confirmed to have been caused by COVID-19 is 878 as of May 9, as reported by the CDC. It is important to note that the data reported on the dashboard up to this point, and to CDC, is shared for disease surveillance and tracking purposes. It is separate from the state official death records, which are maintained through death certificates.

It's important to note that the Colorado toll grew by 130 a few weeks back because of what Polis described in an April 24 press event as a retroactive adjustment related to fatalities that had listed COVID-19 as a cause on death certificates over the preceding four or five weeks, as well as cases from earlier in the month reported by private labs — information that had not previously been rolled into the CDPHE's totals. Moreover, many experts believe a considerable number of pre-March deaths may have been caused by COVID-19 but were not caught.

Moreover, the current CDPHE data, updated at 4 p.m. on May 17, shows 878 COVID-19 deaths — the same number tied to May 9 in the statement above. As such, it suggests that no one in Colorado died from the virus in an entire week — an extraordinarily unlikely scenario.

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With that caveat in mind, these are the department's latest numbers:

21,938 cases
3,872 hospitalized
60 counties
126,330 people tested
1,215 deaths among cases
878 deaths due to COVID-19
223 outbreaks

Another important metric involves current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado, which stand at 486. Seeing this number sink below 500 represents an improvement that doesn't vary based on one's ideology.

Another tragic death of note: Tin Aye, who worked at another Colorado outbreak site, the JBS plant in Greeley, and was featured in a devastating report by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. She was sixty and represents the eighth reported death tied to the plant.

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