Gorham Walmart closes temporarily due to COVID

A sign at the entrance to the Walmart in Gorham lets customers know that the store was closed for cleaning on Tuesday to reopen Thursday morning. (PAUL ROBITAILLE PHOTO)

GORHAM — The Walmart in Gorham closed down for a day and a half starting Tuesday afternoon so that staff could clean the facility after a number of employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Walmart closed at 2 p.m. Tuesday and is scheduled to reopen today at 6 a.m.

On Tuesday morning, rumors began circulating that the Gorham Walmart would be closing. Later in the morning a press release from Felicia McCranie of Walmart’s media relations team confirmed the rumor, stating: 

“We wanted to make you aware of Walmart’s decision to temporarily close its Gorham, N.H., store location at 561 Main St. today at 2 p.m. as part of a company-initiated program to allow third-party cleaning crews time to thoroughly clean and sanitize the building. The location will remain closed through tomorrow, Oct. 20, providing our associates time to restock shelves and prep the store to reopen on Oct. 21 at 6 a.m.”

Local officials were quickly made aware of the closing.

Gorham Town Manager Denise Valle said, “When we began to hear these rumors, we dispatched Emergency Director Phil Cloutier to speak with Walmart management. The fire chief told me that the deep cleaning was due to the number of employees that had tested positive for COVID-19 and the amount of community transmission among customers,” Valle said.

After speaking with Walmart coach Jamison Highlander, Cloutier confirmed the closing and that the cleaning was "due to the number of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.” 

Cloutier went on to say: “We (meaning the Berlin/Gorham area) are under a ‘Red Alert’ for COVID now due to the amount of community transmission. People should resume wearing masks, washing their hands, vaccinating and maintain social distance and isolation.

The Walmart release said: “Walmart’s place within the community is considered essential, and we understand the role we play in providing customers with food, medicine and other needed items during this time," and directed readers to the Walmart corporate website for information on the company's initiatives to help keep associates and customers safe.

Additionally, the release stated: “As you know, several areas across the country have begun seeing a renewed increase in positive COVID-19 cases, and we want to assist health officials working against the pandemic," saying that the Gorham Walmart closure was in support of that effort.

Cloutier said: "If people need to get medication, Walmart will be offering curbside service only, and there is Walgreens in Berlin for over-the-counter medications. If they need groceries, they can use the Marketplace in Berlin during this time.”

Coos County Family Health Services Director Ken Gordon said, “I am pleased to know that the Walmart pharmacy is continuing to operate offering curbside service. Perhaps this event will encourage people to wear masks wash hands and practice social distancing. CCFHS is open and available to offer vaccines. We hope to get permission to offer the Moderna vaccine by the end of week once permission is received from the federal government.”

Gordon added, “The Moderna booster vaccine as before will need a 15-minute waiting period. That is hard to do in a drive-thru so we are working to find an inside site where we can offer the Moderna booster when it is ready.”  

Gordon cited figures from the state of New Hampshire and said, “Right now what we are seeing in this surge is the Delta variant, which is much easier to spread in the community.”

As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, there were few cars in the Walmart parking lot. Four Walmart employees were stationed outside both entrances explaining to people that the store was closed and why. 

One employee said, “Most people understand, but there have been a couple of angry people.”  

A few cars were still driving into the lot at that time, with some people there to pick up medications, which were brought out to them.

Walmart follows state and local mask mandates, and in counties with substantial or higher transmission rates, associates are required to wear masks inside buildings.

The closure press release stated continued: “Everything we’re doing is for the well-being of our associates and the thousands of customers we serve daily, and in consideration of guidance by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health experts. Given the rise in positive cases through the Delta variant, we will follow CDC guidance, which includes fully vaccinated people wearing masks in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission."

According to the release, Walmart "will continue conducting associate health assessments, and all unvaccinated associates must still wear face coverings. "

Walmart offers COVID-19 vaccines to customers through walk-in or online appointments. The company also offers easy access to vaccines for associates, who can receive their vaccinations at the Walmart pharmacy, on or off the clock, and are given two hours of paid leave to get vaccinated elsewhere if they choose to.

Walmart gives associates who receive the vaccine a $150 bonus and up to three days paid leave if they experience an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

The release notes: “These protocols and convenient access to vaccinations are in addition to the extensive measures we’ve put in place during the pandemic to help protect our associates and customers. We will continue working closely with elected and local health officials, adjusting how we serve the community while also keeping the health and safety of our customers and associates in mind.”

A visit to the Walmart corporate website link provided in the press release revealed the nine-page corporation protocols regarding Walmart’s response to the pandemic and the directives regarding substantial COVID transmission amongst Walmart employees, the customers, and the community. 

It also revealed the protocols regarding deep cleaning and allowing employees the time needed to get vaccinated plus a bonus if they choose to do so. The deep cleaning methods for Gorham have already been used in other stores around the country where serious outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred.

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