Employee with COVID-19 says customers at risk at McKenzie convenience store

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A McKenzie convenience store manager says that she has tested positive for COVID-19, and that her employer is putting the public at risk.

According to Tonya Smith, store manager over Exxon Food Shop at 17525 Highland Drive in McKenzie, she tested positive for COVID-19 on August 26 and is currently self-quarantining at her home in Atwood.

Smith says, however, that she was in close, prolonged contact with most of the employees at that store in the days immediately before her positive test and that Romeo Shafi, supervisor over the McKenzie store and four stores in Shelby County, is not allowing those employees to take off work to quarantine themselves.

“I didn’t say they can’t take off, but only if they have symptoms,” Shafi said in an Aug. 27 telephone interview.

Smith said that some of the employees have informed her that they are exhibiting symptoms and that one of her co-workers is currently living in her home.

“She has no choice but to go to work because there’s nobody to fill the shifts,” said Smith. “Personally, I feel he (Shafi) is putting all the customers’ health at risk because he does not want to lose the almighty dollar.”

I’m not in business to pay someone to stay home

Romeo Shafi

Shafi said that he believes Smith is “manipulating things” and claimed that Smith falsified documents back in July in order to take paid leave when she said she was showing symptoms of COVID-19 back then.

“I’m not in business to pay someone to stay home,” said Shafi.

Smith provided the News-Leader with a digital photo of a signed document from the Carroll County Health Department (CCHD) asking that Smith be excused from work from July 8 to July 19.

Smith also provided an email sent to her on Aug. 27 from Anna Todd, nurse supervisor at the CCHD. In that email Todd states: “Regarding your employees that have been within 6 feet of you for 10 min or longer since August 22, 2020 we are advising a 14-day quarantine from the last time they were in close contact with you. If ANY of your employees that were in close contact with you develop symptoms consistent with Coronavirus they would need to be excluded from work until they can be tested to determine if they too have COVID 19.”

Todd advised Smith to stay in quarantine until at least September 3.

Shafi said that he has recently had the entire store professionally cleaned and disinfected, that employees are cleaning and disinfecting everything daily, and that all employees are required to wear masks at all times while at work.

Shafi also said that he has shut down the store’s kitchen since Smith tested positive.

In an email from Shelley Walker, director over the Office of Communications and Media Relations with the Tennessee Health Department, she stated that “[a]nyone who has come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 is instructed to stay home, or quarantine, for 14 days after their last contact with the case. ‘Close contact’ means being within six feet of a person for at least ten minutes while he or she was feeling sick or recently tested positive. Those living in a household with someone with COVID-19 are typically going to be close contacts, and like any close contact of a person with COVID-19, a household member must quarantine following contact to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires that employers with fewer than 500 employees provide up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay when the employee is unable to work because he or she is quarantined under a government order or the advice of a health care provider, and/or is experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.

Smith said she currently has symptoms of COVID -19 and that she also suffers from COPD.

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