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Hundreds infected, several dead: How COVID-19 has affected the unsung essential workers in retail

Hundreds infected, several dead: How COVID-19 has affected the unsung essential workers in retail
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As an associate manager at a No Frills supermarket, Helen Stathopoulos rarely had to confront existential worries on the job. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

For two months, she and colleagues in north-end Toronto have faced daily risk of infection in one of the few environments where a locked-down populace routinely congregated in large numbers.

“When you go to work, you don’t know what you’re going to come up against,” said Sathopoulos, 41. “It would be a lie to say it doesn’t weigh on us. It does. You think about it all the time … Absolutely the fear is there.”

Indeed, the legions of grocery and pharmacy workers like her across Canada have been the unsung frontline workers of the pandemic, and their quotidian exposure to the public has had an impact.

As the epidemic slows and other retailers begin to open, the anxiety has lessened. Meanwhile, health-care workers have definitely been the hardest hit by the coronavirus, with thousands sickened.

Helen Stathopoulos, an associate manager at a Toronto No Frills supermarket, says going to work in busy stores throughout the pandemic has often been stressful. Companies say about 500 grocery workers across Canada have caught COVID-19, while one union says several have died. Handout

But based on union estimates and statistics provided by some companies, at least 500 food-retail and pharmacy employees throughout Canada have tested positive and several have died from the disease.

For many shoppers, as well, doing the groceries has been a stressful activity, with some pointing to such stores as the source of their own infections.
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