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Cambridge City Council Requests New Public Health Protections for Grocery Store Workers

The Cambridge City Council unanimously approved a measure Monday evening requesting stricter public health regulations to protect grocery store workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cambridge City Council unanimously approved a measure Monday evening requesting stricter public health regulations to protect grocery store workers during the coronavirus pandemic. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Maria G. Gonzalez, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council unanimously approved a measure Monday evening requesting stricter public health regulations to protect grocery store workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy order directs the City Manager and Cambridge Public Health Department to develop stricter safety guidelines for “front line” businesses, such as food markets, pharmacies, and grocery stores.

The measures “will help ensure these employees are able to safely perform their crucial work, safeguard the health of these workers and their families, and save lives,” the policy order reads.

Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on March 10. Baker ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and issued a stay-at-home order on March 23. Massachusetts has reported more than 26,000 cases of COVID-19 since early March.

On Wednesday, a Whole Foods employee in Cambridge tested positive for the coronavirus. In Salem, Mass., a Market Basket employee died after contracting COVID-19, marking the first death of a grocery store worker due to the disease in the state.

These cases illustrate “just how dire this situation has become” for essential workers, according to the measure approved at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Potential public health guidelines include requiring front line businesses to provide masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to their employees at each shift, mandating frequent store and equipment sterilization, and requiring customers to wear masks or face coverings.

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale issued an advisory on Thursday urging Cambridge residents to wear face coverings whenever they leave their homes, including on trips to grocery stores and pharmacies.

“Using simple cloth face coverings is another way we can help slow the spread of the virus, especially from those who may have the virus and do not know it,” Siddiqui and DePasquale wrote in a joint statement Thursday.

During Monday’s meeting, Councilor Marc C. McGovern said he was “amazed and troubled” to see residents without masks when he went grocery shopping over the weekend.

“They’re doing a great job of not letting people in and trying to control the number of people in the supermarket, but the number of people that didn’t have masks on was just incredible,” McGovern said. “If there’s ever a time for us to be more strict and to step up, it has to be now.”

Additional guidelines proposed in the measure include requiring protective plexiglass barriers for cashiers, creating pick-up only locations, rerouting cash transactions to self-service kiosks, and providing workers hazard pay.

Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon — who co-sponsored the measure alongside Siddiqui — said the Council must make use of its public health emergency powers to protect essential workers in Cambridge.

“Often these are low-wage workers making twelve dollars an hour,” Mallon said. “They can’t afford not to go to work.”

“It’s incumbent upon us during a public health emergency to make sure that we are protecting them with those broad powers that a state of emergency provides for us,” she added.

—Staff writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at maria.gonzalez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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