COVID-19 clusters reported at four South Bay Costco locations

A COVID-19 outbreak at a South Bay big-box store has prompted an investigation by the Santa Clara County Health Department.

Late Thursday afternoon, health officials revealed they’re investigating four different Costco locations. Despite this, they say Costco has done a good job with COVID-19 preventative measures, and the infections don’t appear to extend to customers.

“Front line workers are at higher risk. They’re in these retail locations. They have people facing them all the time,” said Dr. Martin Fenstersheib of the Santa Clara County Health Department.

Officials say the four Costco stores have reported clusters of COVID-19 cases so far this month. There have been six cases at the Gilroy location, eight in San Jose’s Senter Road location, 13 in Sunnyvale, and four cases in Mountain View. Officials believe most of the employees were likely infected outside the store. Health inspectors have visited all the affected sites, and all have met current health standards.

“They have been good partners with the public health department in maintaining those protocols,” said Fernstershieb.

At the Sunnyvale location, customers carried carts full of merchandise. Some, saying the COVID-19 outbreak this week doesn’t influence their shopping habits.

“For me it’s not a problem because everyone is using masks, and keeping six feet distance. Using hand sanitizers. So for me it’s ok. We have to work, and there’s not another way to make money,” said Mateus, who buys and delivers groceries for those who can’t be out and about.

Researchers say they’re exploring a new concept, so-called “super spreaders,” to explain how and why COVID clusters pop up in some environments and not others.

“Apparently some people appear – appear, we don’t know yet – to spread it more easily than others. So all it takes is that one person to come in and spread it among a group,” said Dr. Mark Schwartz, a San Jose State University biotechnologist.

Earlier in July, four employees with close working contact at a San Jose Trader Joe’s store tested positive for the virus. Dr. Schwartz said these types of occurrences could become common place..

“I think we are gonna see these outbreaks. Period. We are gonna live with this for a long time until we have a robust vaccine,” he said.

Employees at the Senter Road location tested Tuesday but no results. Officials say the public is safe shopping at Costco, but remind people to practice social distancing and wearing masks when outside.