Two days after a QuikTrip employee died of COVID-19, a company spokesman said Tuesday that the business is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of its customers and employees.
“Everybody has their own opinion of what we need to be doing and not be doing, and we respect that and understand that,” said Mike Thornbrugh. “But we are holding true to the guidance that we are receiving from medical experts for how we do things, and as those medical experts have new rules, they have new regulations or they have new guidance, we are acting accordingly.”
Israel Sauz, 22, a night assistant manager at the QuikTrip at 1022 S. Utica Ave., died of the disease at a hospital Sunday.
Sauz had last worked at the store March 16, and family members said Monday that it doesn’t appear that he was infected while on the job.
But a Tulsa QT employee, who spoke with the Tulsa World on condition of anonymity, said Monday that the corporation historically has been loyal to its employees but seems to have fallen short in this emergency.
Some QuikTrip employees say the company is doing little to enforce social distancing rules and is prioritizing profits over workers’ well-being, the employee said. Similar concerns were expressed in anonymous online posts.
Thornbrugh responded to the employees’ concerns Tuesday, saying QuikTrip is extremely proud of its store teams for providing “essential services to the community in this time of great need.”
“QuikTrip is in constant communication with our local governments and health departments to ensure that we are doing the right thing,” he said. “We are operating in full compliance with all of the advice and directives of those regulatory bodies in each of our locales and will continue to do so.”
QuikTrip employees have always been expected to wash their hands frequently and to wear gloves when handling food products, Thornbrugh said, and those efforts have been intensified to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Right now, what we are currently doing — and it is not just Tulsa, it is every single store in which we operate — is we are cleaning and disinfecting every touch point by our customers or our employees every 30 minutes, and we’re doing that all day long,” he said.
The company is also posting signs on the doors noting that stores are limited to 10 people inside at a time and encouraging customers to practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart.
QuikTrip has ended refill service for fountain drinks and coffee and removed all stir sticks and lids from its self-serve counters. Customers can request lids at the counter, and staff will use sanitized tongs to pick them up and hand them to the customers, Thornbrugh said.
Following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tulsa Health Department on Tuesday urged people to wear a cloth face cover when around others.
“Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public,” said Bruce Dart, THD’s executive director. “For example, to go to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.”
Thornbrugh said the corporation sent the CDC recommendation to its employees on Friday and that they are free to wear facial coverings immediately if they so choose.
QuikTrip employees already have three-ply masks available, he said, and “we are working on trying to secure other types of masks if they choose to wear them.”
Systemwide — QuikTrip has 826 stores in 11 states — company officials work daily to keep up with and adhere to the health care regulations imposed in each community, Thornbrugh said.
“One of the reasons we have a generic message on our website is … right now, I promise you, another state, another city, another county, be it elected officials, be it public health officials, have new guidance,” he said. “We are constantly making sure we’re doing it the right way.”
Thornbrugh said that in these unprecedented times the company takes its role as an essential business seriously and asks that the public do its part to ensure that everyone remains safe.
“We know we have a job, and we’re doing it, based upon all the medical experts’ advice,” he said. “But we need everybody to help us so we can help you.”