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Virus forces second shutdown at Dollar General distribution center / July 09, 2020
For the second time in as many weeks, the Dollar General Distribution Center in South Boston has been forced to shut down for a brief period after one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The distribution center closed around noon on Wednesday after the company learned of the employee’s diagnosis. Dollar General confirmed the pause in operations in a statement Wednesday but declined to offer information on the worker’s health status, citing privacy considerations.

The distribution center reopened later in the afternoon after an outside vendor was called in to clean the facility.

Employees said they were informed of the positive test result by plant management. According to a worker at the distribution center who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the situation, face coverings have been optional at the plant, “but starting Monday it will be mandatory to wear a facemask.”

This is the second recent shutdown of the distribution center, coming on the heels of a one-day closing June 26, also spurred by an employee testing positive for the coronavirus. The latest disruption at the plant also comes as COVID-19 cases are spiking at the quickest pace in Halifax County since the pandemic struck. There are now 70 county residents known to be infected with the virus, a number that has more than doubled in the span of less than a month.

The employee who tested positive was at work on Tuesday, said co-workers who asked not to be identified. A spokesperson for Dollar General said the company “took proactive and preventative measures to halt operations” once the positive test result became known, bringing in a cleaning vendor to disinfect the distribution center and its equipment.

“After an extensive and thorough cleaning by a third-party cleaning company, we resumed operations to support the essential work and services that our stores are performing for the communities we serve. All employees were paid for regularly-scheduled hours during this time,” wrote Mary Kathryn Colbert, a Dollar General spokesperson, in an emailed statement in response to inquiries by this newspaper.

“At Dollar General, the health and safety of our employees remains our top priority,” she wrote. Colbert added, “Our thoughts are with our employee, and we wish them a quick recovery.”

Colbert said Dollar General has acted to protect the health of employees at the South Boston distribution center by providing fabric and disposable facial coverings and disposable gloves to employees “who choose, or who are required by local governments, to wear them. Employees may also wear their own facial coverings as long as disposable masks are appropriately discarded and fabric masks are laundered after each use,” she wrote.

Social distancing measures are in effect at Dollar General’s 16,500 locations, including its stores, distribution centers and storage facilities, and the company has protocols in place at its distribution and storage sites for cleaning and social distancing “in common areas such as restrooms, locker rooms and break rooms,” wrote Colbert.

“Additionally, we continue to remind employees on a regular basis of the steps to help avoid or contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as well as steps they should take if they experience symptoms or have direct contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Employees who are experiencing fever or other symptoms of the virus are asked to stay home,” she added.

The request for employees to stay home extends to those who are taking care of a household member with COVID-19, or who are waiting for test results based on their own symptoms. Employees are paid for their regularly-scheduled work hours during those times, Colbert stated.

Daily updates by the Virginia Department of Health show coronavirus infections surging in Halifax and Pittsylvania counties. In Pittsylvania, 146 people have tested positive for the disease as of Wednesday. As in Halifax, Pittsylvania’s caseload has risen sharply in the past week, with 23 additional positive test results over the most recent seven-day period.

In both Halifax and Pittsylvania counties, the local death toll from the virus stands at one. Two people have died in the City of Danville. Deaths in Mecklenburg County stood at through Wednesday, the highest toll in the Southside Virginia region, according to VDH.

In Mecklenburg, 26 of the 29 people who have died are connected to two nursing homes — Sentara MeadowView Terrace in Clarksville, where the death toll now stands at 14 people, and Chase City Health & Rehab in Chase City, where 12 have died.

Virginia’s death toll has risen to 1,905 persons, with the state reporting 67,375 total cases. On Wednesday, the U.S. surpassed the three million mark for the spread of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

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