The Review’s story last week on the COVID-19 death of a staffer at the Forest Park Walmart has now been viewed more than 40,000 times, shared more than 220 times. That is not normal for a story in the local paper.
We believe the story got so much attention because, in this critical moment, Americans have come into focus on the enormous risks and sacrifices being taken every day of this pandemic by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. And while we all feel gratitude and wonder for frontline medical staff working in ERs and now COVID-19 wards of every hospital, it has become clear there is another entire level of service being rendered by poorly paid, typically ignored women and men who keep at it in our grocery stores, fast-food drive-thrus, and food factories pumping out our food.
While recognition is a worthy response, hard questions also need to be asked of major corporations, including Walmart, about how aggressive have they been in legitimately protecting their workers and the public. We know there have been unknowns in this pandemic. We understand these organizations are vast. But was masking mandatory and PPE readily available? Were sufficient steps taken to enforce — not suggest but enforce — social distancing? Did employees working the floor at Walmart have health insurance that would make them confident in seeking medical help or, as in the Forest Park case, did individuals just go home to die?