News & Politics

WUSA Says It Shouldn’t Have Reported There Were More Than a Dozen Coronavirus Cases Among Logan Circle Whole Foods Staff

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Coronavirus 2020

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“More than one dozen workers” at Whole Foods Market’s P Street, Northwest, store “have #coronavirus,” WUSA journalist Michael Quander reported on Twitter Wednesday morning. The tweet thread, now deleted, linked to WUSA’s digital story about the alarming report, which included a video story the station had broadcast. The report relied on a single anonymous source, someone “who works as an Amazon shopper at the Logan Circle Whole Foods.”

Later on Wednesday, a significant correction appeared atop the story: “An earlier version of this story reported 12 cases of coronavirus at the P Street Whole Foods. We have only been able to independently confirm four of those cases.” A little later, an update to the correction: “We have only been able to independently confirm at least six of those cases.”

The uncorrected figure had already made a splash in a DC social media ecosystem full of people locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, for many of whom grocery stores are critical infrastructure. The unnamed employee told Quander the store has “not been shut down for a deep cleaning.” A Whole Foods spokesperson told WUSA and Washingtonian that isn’t true: The store has “undergone multiple deep cleanings and disinfections by third parties overnight and after hours, on top of our current enhanced daily sanitation and cleaning measures.”

WUSA VP and station manager Michael Valentine tells Washingtonian in an email that “the source claimed there were 12 cases and provided definitive confirmation of 4, which WUSA9 aired and also included in a subsequent article published on WUSA9.com.” WUSA’s content director, Valentine says, “recognized the discrepancy, and the number was changed to 4 cases, then to 6, to reflect the number of cases we have been able to independently confirm so far. Although our source was able to confirm multiple cases, the original claim of 12 cases should not have made it on the air or onto our digital story.”

A Whole Foods spokesperson confirms to Washingtonian that multiple employees at the P Street store have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and says the company didn’t know about the information WUSA’s source shared with Quander until after the story ran.

The nation’s 3 million grocery workers are at great risk for exposure to coronavirus: At least 41 have died since the pandemic began, the Washington Post reported Sunday. Some Whole Foods employees say the Amazon-owned chain hasn’t done enough to protect them, an assertion the company denied.

Whole Foods meets “any notification of a diagnosis with swift and comprehensive action and communication to our Team Members in the store, and are supporting our diagnosed Team Members as well as those in quarantine,” the spokesperson tells Washingtonian. The chain takes employees’ temperatures every day, requires them to wear face masks, has installed plexiglas barriers at checkouts, and uses social-distancing and crowd-control measures.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.