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story.lead_photo.caption Workers sanitize items in the parking lot in front of a Walmart at Aurora, Colo., on Friday, April 24, 2020. The Walmart was closed after the deaths of three people connected to the store who were infected with the new coronavirus. - Photo by AP / David Zalubowski

A Walmart store in Colorado was ordered closed for violating safety rules after three coronavirus deaths and at least six confirmed cases among employees.

The health department serving Arapahoe County closed the supercenter in Aurora on Thursday, the department said in a news release. Officials said Bentonville-based Walmart Inc. was cooperating fully with the closure and an ongoing investigation.

The Tri-County Health Department, which also covers Adams and Douglas counties, confirmed the deaths of a 72-year-old employee, her 63-year-old husband who did not work at the store, and a 69-year-old security guard who worked under contract at the store.

In addition, six employees tested positive for the virus and three more were awaiting test results, department officials said.

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"We are extremely saddened by this news and offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the three people we lost," Dr. John Douglas Jr., the health department's executive director, said in the release. "These deaths underscore the severity of the highly contagious coronavirus, and the need for diligent safety precautions to prevent any further spread, including the wearing of face masks."

As of Friday, Arapahoe County had 1,819 covid-19 cases and 99 deaths, according to Tri-County Health Department data. The state had reported 12,256 cases and 674 deaths.

The health department "issued an 'order to close' after a series of complaints received from employees and shoppers regarding the lack of social distancing, too many people in the store at one time, and employees not wearing masks or face coverings," officials said in the release.

The order states Walmart violated a public-health directive "implementing stay at home requirements" issued April 9 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety.

"It has been determined that you have violated the Public Health Order by operating your business in a manner that does not adhere to Section II A referring to critical businesses that must adhere to Social Distancing Requirements at all times," the health department's order states. "Also, it has been determined there is an outbreak amongst employees at the store. Accordingly, you are hereby ordered to close immediately and remain closed until such time as [the department] determines you are in compliance with the Public Health Order."

Walmart, which could only confirm the death of one employee, said in a statement Friday that the store's temporary closure "will allow third-party cleaning experts to further clean and sanitize the store."

Noting that Colorado has been hit hard by the outbreak, the company said, "We know how hard this is for our associates in Aurora and everyone impacted by this difficult situation. We want to do everything we can to support them at this time. We will continue to work closely with Tri-County Health Department and take additional steps as needed to re-open the store."

The retailer reiterated the steps it has taken in its stores, including the one in Aurora, to protect customers and workers from exposure to the virus. These include installing sneeze guards at checkout lanes; installing floor decals at entrances and checkout lanes to encourage social distancing; limiting the number of customers who can be in a store at the same time; and requiring employees to wear masks or other face coverings and encouraging customers to do the same while shopping.

On April 6, Walmart confirmed that two employees at a Chicago-area store had died of the coronavirus. That store was closed temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitizing, even though the retailer said the workers hadn't been in the store in more than a week.

And a week before that, a Walmart e-commerce fulfillment center in Bethlehem, Pa., closed several days for cleaning after nine employees tested positive for the virus, newspaper The Morning Call reported. Walmart said it did have confirmed cases there but did not specify the number.

Business on 04/25/2020

Print Headline: Colorado Walmart shut after 3 deaths

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