Kroger expands coronavirus testing for employees with free self-administered kits, drive-thru appointments

Key Points
  • Kroger said it will help connect employees to free Covid-19 testing, if they have symptoms or qualify based on medical need.
  • Employees will either get a self-administered test kit or an appointment at one of the company-run drive-thru locations.
  • The major U.S. grocer announced last week that it plans to have 50 drive-thru sites by the end of May.
Assistant store manager Jesus Alvarez rings up groceries from behind a new plexiglass barrier at Ralphs Kroger grocery store after California issued a stay-at-home order in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Los Angeles.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Kroger, one of the country's largest retailers, said Monday that it's expanding employees' access to free coronavirus testing, if they have symptoms.

Starting this month, the grocer said it will provide workers with a self-administered test kit or an appointment at drive-thru locations run by Kroger Health, the health-care division of the company, according to a news release. The company will use the same criteria as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as prioritizing those with symptoms and underlying medical conditions.

Grocery stores have remained open as essential businesses as other retailers have shuttered. As many other Americans work from home, grocery workers have continued to go to stores. Some have gotten sick and died from the coronavirus.

Kroger is the parent company of numerous grocery chains, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter and Fry's. It has more than 460,000 employees and nearly 2,800 food stores across 35 states and the District of Columbia.

Kroger would not say how many of its workers have gotten sick, but company spokeswoman Kristal Howard said it's "had a small incident rate."

It has had at least four employee deaths, according to a company statement in mid-April. The four employees who died worked at four different stores in Michigan. In a statement about the deaths, Kroger said it was coordinating with local health departments and providing mental health and grief counselors for workers. 

During the pandemic, Kroger has hired more than 70,000 employees to keep up with demand for food and household essentials — even as employees have gotten sick or had to take off from work because of lack of child care or exposure to the coronavirus.

Kroger is one of five U.S. retailers that have opened and staffed a growing number of drive-thru testing locations across the country. Kroger announced last week that it would have 50 sites by the end of May. It has 30 drive-thru locations across Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. They are staffed by nurse practitioners, pharmacists and technicians from Kroger Health and located in store parking lots.

Testing is free at the drive-thru sites, if people meet CDC criteria. A federal law, signed by President Donald Trump in mid-March, also requires employer-sponsored health plans to provide free coverage of Covid-19 testing.

Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said the grocer is "doing all we can to keep our team healthy and safe."

"The widespread availability of diagnostic testing will now allow our associates to feel more empowered and knowledgeable about their health, creating safer stores and facilities."

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