Two Cronig’s employees test positive for COVID-19

15 more employees are being tested.

Two employees at Cronig's have tested positive for COVID-19. -Gabrielle Mannino

Updated, Friday, Nov. 6, 1:30 pm*

Two employees at Cronig’s in Vineyard Haven have tested positive for COVID-19, owner Steve Bernier told The Times. The store remains open for business after consultation with the Tisbury board of health.

Bernier said the two employees both appear to be doing well and have not worked at the store while symptomatic. The first employee first started feeling symptoms eight days ago ahead of a trip that wasn’t taken, Bernier said. The employee got tested and reported a positive result on Tuesday. The second employee, who doesn’t work in the same department at the store, went home sick Monday, got tested, and received the positive results on Thursday morning.

The cases do not appear to be linked and it is believed that the source of infection for both cases was external exposure,” Bernier wrote. “Several staff members have already been tested and the remainder are being asked to get tested. Public health nurses for the board of health are also contacting individuals who may have been in close contact with the individuals to advise them of the need to quarantine and be tested.”

According to the statement, Cronig’s continues to clean and sanitize the store on a regular basis.

“My staff and I take the health and safety of our customers seriously and have taken steps since the beginning of the pandemic to limit their exposure or risk in the event there was a positive case,” Bernier wrote. “Shopping baskets, carts and high touch surfaces are frequently disinfected and the store is cleaned and sanitized after closing each evening.  All employees wear masks and practice social distancing and plexiglas barriers separate our cashiers from customers.”

The store underwent a deeper cleaner after the positive cases, he wrote. “Based on CDC guidance and the measures we have in place, I do not believe that any customers are at risk of contracting the virus from these employees,” Bernier wrote. “However, if you are concerned and wish to be tested TestMV continues to offer testing at the [Martha’s Vineyard] Regional High School.”

Cronig’s was among the first businesses to install plexiglass to protect customers and employees. He also gave his employees Sunday off so they’d have a chance to rest at a time when supermarkets were facing an unprecedented demand.

In a followup interview, Bernier said the two employees are doing well. “It’s under control, they’re isolated,” he said. “They don’t need medical attention. Tylenol seems to be working.”

Cronig’s has 50 to 60 employees and about 15 of them have sought tests. Those results are pending, Bernier said. Any positives in that group could change the store’s status, but he’s confident store employees are doing all they can to keep customers safe by wearing masks, social distancing when possible, serving customers behind plexiglass, and cleaning touch points in the store before a deeper cleaning every night.

“They’re scared, they’re worried,” Bernier said of the store’s other employees. “It was scary when we didn’t have any cases and we were dealing with a lot of people everyday. That’s scary in itself. Now you throw this on top of there.… They don’t know where to run, hide whatever. We’re trying to hang onto each other and make sure all protocols are in place, make sure the wiping and cleaning happens right.”

The next 72 hours are critical. “We need to wait for those results to come in,” Bernier said. “We’re set to do business, but it’s literally on an hour by hour basis. I’m just asking people to hang tight as they have for the past seven months and keep moving forward.”

The store is fully cooperating and communicating with health officials.

“I have the store wiped down every night since mid-March. We’re doing our homework, which is why we haven’t had a case in seven months,” he said.

Health agent Maura Valley said she has been in contact with Bernier. “Based on the available information it appears that the two cases are not related and that their exposure to the virus occurred outside of their employment,” she wrote in an email. “ I also reached out to the Department of Public Health and confirmed that the store did not need to be shut down as a result of these cases.”

Bernier said the two employees don’t interact in the store, which is why he believes they were infected outside of the store.

“As soon as someone is showing symptoms, they’re offline immediately,” he said. “We’re not waiting for the anvil to hit us over the head.”

Bernier said customers will have to make up their own minds whether to shop at the store.

“If you have concerns, then don’t come shopping. Do I need to close the store because you’re uncomfortable? I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do for the public at large,” he said. “This is where you get into: is it the chicken or the egg? I get confused. I’m not quite sure. That’s why I went to the board of health for help.”

*Updated to remove reference to store remaining open. Cronig’s will close for the weekend on Friday at 3 pm, owner Steve Bernier announced after a third employee tested positive.