An Amazon Prime shopper who works at the Chapel Hill Whole Foods tested positive for COVID-19 soon after Governor Cooper announced the state’s first case on March 3, two Whole Foods employees who work at that location told the INDY this week. 

One source said they were notified by management around March 13 that the unnamed employee had last worked on March 6.

Two weeks later, around March 27, the source says they were informed that another employee had tested positive for COVID-19 as well. 

The sources spoke to the INDY on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. 

On Thursday, a Whole Foods spokesperson—who agreed to comment on background and/or with the understanding that their remarks would be attributed to a spokesperson—confirmed that more than one employee at the Chapel Hill store tested positive for the novel coronavirus but said the INDY’s sources were incorrect about the dates when the employees last worked. The spokesperson, however, declined to confirm how many employees had tested positive or specify when they had done so, saying only that “the last day that either of them worked before going into quarantine was more than 30 days ago,” meaning before April 1.  

In early March, when one source says they learned of the first employee’s diagnosis, there were only a handful of confirmed coronavirus cases in North Carolina, and no social distancing protocols were in place. Bars and dine-in restaurants weren’t closed until March 17, and the statewide stay-at-home order did not take effect until March 29. 

Whole Foods did not disclose the diagnoses to the public. 

“It was a month ago, but they still deserve to know,” one of the sources says. “When the initial person was diagnosed, that was before we had any regulations in place. We didn’t have regulations on social distancing or anything like that.”

One source works as an Amazon Prime shopper, employees who fulfill online grocery orders placed through Amazon—which owns Whole Foods—for delivery to customers. While the company declined to say which department the employees who tested positive for COVID-19 work in, both sources told INDY that at least one was a Prime shopper. There are usually about a dozen Prime shoppers in the store per shift, the source says: “The orders don’t end. There’s an infinite amount of orders. It’s just constant.”

Because of the sheer volume, the source says, social distancing is nearly impossible: “There are situations where six feet just doesn’t happen. It’s nerve-wracking because we are so close to each other.”

The other employee, who works in a different department, says that delivery times fill up as soon as time slots open, and from the time the store opens at 6:00 a.m. until about 6:00 p.m., there are anywhere from 50 to 90 orders to fill.

With social distancing rules in place, the nearly 200 staff members who work at the Chapel Hill store are being supplied with single-use masks and gloves, but the source who is a Prime shopper says that most of the time, Prime shoppers don’t wear the gloves because they make it hard to bag items.

A grassroots online group called Whole Workers created a Google Doc that purports to list all of the coronavirus cases reported in Whole Foods stores across the United States. According to the document, which is based on news reports and employee social media posts, there have been 263 cases in 136 stores. At least two Whole Foods employees—one in Portland, Oregon, and one Swampscott, Massachusetts—have died from COVID-19. The document says that there have been five cases in North Carolina, including one in Greensboro, one in Charlotte, and three at the Chapel Hill location. (While the company’s spokesperson declined to say how many cases the store had, references to “both” and “either” suggest two.) 

Following coronavirus cases in San Francisco and Tallahassee, Florida, Whole Foods closed the stores and deep-cleaned the facilities. On Friday, the Whole Foods spokesperson said a deep clean of the store had taken place but did not specify when they took place or whether they had taken place after each employee was confirmed to have COVID-19*.

Like other Whole Foods stores across the country, plexiglass barriers have been installed at all cash registers in Chapel Hill, and frequently touched surfaces such as carts, baskets, and cash registers are cleaned frequently. Employees’ temperatures are taken at the door, and the number of customers is limited to 40 at a time. 

The spokesperson says that employees who test positive for coronavirus are provided an additional two weeks of paid sick leave, and all employees are receiving an extra $2 per hour.

The spokesperson could not say whether the sick employees had returned to work in Chapel Hill, only that “all employees have to be cleared to come back to work.” The spokesperson did not give any details on what “being cleared” entails.

Whole Foods says that in addition to informing employees about coronavirus diagnoses, it notifies “partners who may have had close contact with someone who was diagnosed positive.”

“The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority,” the spokesperson said in an email. 

The two employees say they don’t feel cared for. Two bucks an hour, one points out, is “a bag of Skittles.”

“It’s just kind of frustrating that they’re not doing more,” the source says. “For us to be out there every day, it’s frustrating to have them tell you that you’re kind of disposable.”

Comment on this story at This story has been updated to include the spokesperson’s comment about the deep clean.

DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.