AURORA, Colo. — As the state begins to reopen, the fear for frontline workers in grocery stores contracting COVID-19 is growing.
Some communities require face masks, but it's not a mandate across the state of Colorado. And enforcing the face-covering policy can quickly take a turn. There have been reports of fights over enforcing the policy and in Michigan, a security guard was fatally shot after telling a customer their child had to wear a mask.
Carol Foster has been a loyal King Soopers employee for five years and after taking a four-month leave from work, she's set to return at the end of May.
"I'm really scared because not every customer wears a mask," Foster said.
She is 70 years old and suffers from asthma, which puts her at a higher risk for serious illness if she contracts COVID-19.
"I don't have a choice; I have to earn a living," Foster said. "I have to support myself."
She is set to start at the King Soopers in Aurora, which falls under the Tri-County Health Department. The health department strongly encourages people to wear masks, but they are not required.
Jessica Throwbridge, a spokesperson for King Soopers, says they are following local and state ordinances where masks are required; otherwise, customers are encouraged to wear face coverings in the store.
"They are continuing to put their employees at risk by not requiring that customers wear masks," Foster said.
She says that as a cashier she's been coughed and sneezed on by customers and she can't shake the growing fear of her increased exposure at work.
"I think they should care a little bit more about their employees," she said.
In 2019, Kroger, which owns King Soopers, ranked in fourth place as the biggest grocery chain in the world bases on sales, according to Business Insider.
The latest numbers show 52 employees have tested positive for the virus at the Colorado chain store and one person has died, according to United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
At Safeway, which is owned by Albertsons, eight employees have tested positive for the deadly respiratory disease.
Kim Cordova, a UFCW spokesperson, released the following statement:
"As communities begin to reopen and stores have become more crowded, our members are being put at an even higher risk. That is why we are advocating on behalf of these Essential Heroes for enforceable state laws that would require customers to wear facemasks in stores. As confirmed cases continue to rise, we call on the company to continue to improve safety measures, increase testing and maintain workers' Hero Pay."
Throwbridge says they are providing employees with masks, using plexiglass, limiting customer capacity, providing social distancing decals and emergency leave to associates.
The grocery store plans to stop Hero Bonus, a $2 pay bump for employees, in mid-May.
Foster says she will wear her mask and gloves and she's prepared to redirect customers to another register if they don't have a mask.
"I have to protect myself," she said.
She is pleading with grocery stores and the health department to take the lead and mandate masks in the store.
In a statement, the Tri-County Health Department says they will monitor the compliance of mask use and will consider a mandate if use does not remain high.