Store employees tell the Voice that a worker at the Fonthill Sobeys grocery store has tested positive for COVID-19. The individual's most recent day of work was initially said to be Sept. 15, according to a notice posted on Sobeys' corporate website. However, Thursday morning a spokesperson for the chain told the Voice that the last day of work was Sept. 16.
Asked to clarify which date was correct, a different spokesperson responded on Thursday afternoon, saying that the latter date was correct.
"We endeavour to update customers in a timely manner on our COVID-19 case tracker on our Sobeys Inc. website," said Karen White-Boswell, Director, External Communications. "In this instance there was an error in the statement made on our site. We have since updated the information to ensure the public has current and accurate information."
One employee told the Voice that they were notified on Wednesday by a store manager of the test result, and advised that Public Health may be in contact to recommend that the employee also get tested. This week, Niagara Region surpassed 1000 historic cases of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, Public Health reported that there were 43 active cases in Niagara, and four outbreaks. Factoring out municipalities that are home to hospitals, Pelham and Niagara-on-the-Lake are currently tied for most historic infections per 10,000 population.
Sobeys spokesperson Jacquelin Weatherbee told the Voice that the employee is currently at home recovering.
"Our franchisee is checking-in regularly to see how his teammate is doing," said Weatherby. "We have received notice from Public Health that no other employees are at risk and all employees are cleared to work."
Niagara Region Public Health spokesperson Meredith Maxwell would not confirm this, however, telling the Voice that, "It is not our practice to comment on a specific case or location of exposure."
The Fonthill Sobeys store and its franchise owner became a national news story virtually overnight back in April, when franchisee Ron Kore, who is also a Pelham Town Councillor, tested positive for the coronavirus. Multiple employees came forward to the Voice, alleging that Kore had continued to come to work while visibly ill with a respiratory illness, and dismissed suggestions that he go home until he was well.
In late March, to the distress of Town staff, Kore attended a Town Council meeting, also while exhibiting symptoms. Three others in council chambers that evening later tested positive for COVID-19, and one, fellow councillor Mike Ciolfi, died. An official cause of death for Ciolfi has never been released. In August, Kore publicly pressed for the resumption of in-person council meetings, which have been conducted exclusively via Zoom since April.
Two weeks ago, a Fonthill business owner reported seeing Kore mingling on the floor of the store without wearing a face mask, in apparent violation of local and Region of Niagara bylaws. Kore did not respond at the time to a request for comment regarding the enforcement of mask wearing in the store.
Asked on Thursday to clarify Sobeys' face mask policy, and whether there were exceptions for franchise owners or senior managers, Karen White-Boswell responded, "We follow Public Health guidelines which requires that all persons in an enclosed space wear masks. This includes our teammates— there are no exceptions."
Kore did not acknowledge a request for comment.
Sobeys maintains a list of stores on its website where employees have tested positive. As of Wednesday evening, the Fonthill store was not listed among them. By Thursday morning, Sept. 24, after this story was posted on the Voice website, the list had been updated.
UPDATED 10 AM, Sept. 24, with Sobeys comment.
UPDATED 2 PM, Sept. 24 with further Sobeys comment.
UPDATED 7:30 PM, Sept. 24 with comment from Niagara Region Public Health.
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