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Washington grocery store workers demand more protections during coronavirus outbreak

There are new reports of grocery store employees dying from coronavirus in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

SEATTLE — There are new reports of grocery store employees dying from coronavirus in the Midwest and on the East Coast. 

In Washington, local workers are demanding more prioritized coronavirus testing and access to personal protection equipment.  

Safeway and Albertsons stores say they will provide masks for all employees, plexiglass partitions in checkout lanes, and the stores are practicing social distancing and implementing one-way aisles.

"The stores will limit the number of customers who can be inside the store at one time to roughly 30% of the stores’ capacity. This limitation will provide each customer approximately 150 square feet of individual space," the company said in a news release.

Fred Meyer will allow half of the store's capacity at one time. Trader Joe's also limits the number of customers in its stores, to help maintain the recommended 6-foot distance when working or shopping. A number of stores have implemented special hours for shoppers who are more at risk for serious coronavirus complications.

In 32-years as a Safeway employee, work has never been like this for Mike Solberg. He works at a store in Graham and knows of a few cases where employees at other locations in Washington have tested positive for coronavirus.

Across the country, grocery chains confirm employees have died from coronavirus. A Walmart spokesperson tells NBC News that two employees died in the Chicago area. The Washington Post reports that an employee at Giant grocery store in Maryland, and a Trader Joe's employee in New York state have also died.

A spokesperson for Trader Joe's provided this statement:

"We are deeply saddened that a Crew Member, who worked at our Scarsdale, NY store, passed due to complications from underlying health conditions that were exacerbated by COVID-19. We have offered our condolences and support to the family, and will continue to do whatever we can to support Crew Members of the store, including closing the Scarsdale location until April 9th to give them time to process and grieve."

"It's a little frightening, to be honest, but I think with the steps and measures that companies are taking,  I feel pretty safe to work," said Solberg.

Solbeg said when a grocery store employee he knows tried to get a coronavirus test, she waited six hours only to be denied.

"She didn't meet the qualifications so she wasn't able to test," he said.

Albertsons and UFCW,  America's largest food and retail union, are announcing a joint national effort to seek a temporary designation of "extended first responders" for supermarket employees so that they are prioritized for testing and provided personal protection equipment during the coronavirus outbreak.

“This joint action is an example of how all Americans must work together to protect everyone working on the front lines. This includes not only our brave first responders and healthcare workers but also associates at our nation’s grocery stores who are providing communities with the essential food and supplies needed to weather this public health crisis,” said Albertsons Companies President & CEO Vivek Sankaran and UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a joint statement.

Safeway and Albertsons also plan to begin temperature checks for employees next week, as soon as they receive enough 'no touch' thermometers for all of their stores.