AURORA, Colo. -- The Tri-County Health Department has closed a Walmart store in Aurora linked to at least three coronavirus deaths in the past few days.
Gia Aguilar is the widow of one of those who died.
“It’s been devastating,” Aguilar said. “Emotionally and financially.”
Aguilar’s husband, Lupe, was a security guard at the Walmart store at 14000 Exposition Ave. He became ill on March 5 and was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after being admitted to the hospital. Aguilar said she warned the store weeks ago of potential dangers.
“I had called the Walmart to let them know,” she said. “And I said, 'You need to let all the employees know and have them tested right away.' And I feel like the company should pay for it."
That was more than a month ago. Last week, after three weeks on a ventilator, Lupe Aguilar, 69, passed away.
“I feel like the security team should have been wearing masks,” Aguilar said. “I feel like the employees should have been wearing masks."
Tri-County Health has confirmed the deaths of one employee, one third-party contractred employee and a third death of the employee’s family member. There are six additional confirmed cases among employees, plus an additional three awaiting lab confirmation.
The deaths include a 72-year-old female employee; her 63-year-old husband, who did not work at the store; and 69-year-old Lupe Aguilar. Tri-County Health does not have conditions of the other COVID-19 infected employees at this time.
“We are extremely saddened by this news and offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the three people we lost,” said John M. Douglas, Jr., executive director of Tri-County Health Department said in a statement Thursday evening. “These deaths underscore the severity of the highly-contagious coronavirus, and the need for diligent safety precautions to prevent any further spread, including the wearing of masks."
A Walmart spokeswoman said in a statement to Denver7, "We understand there may be questions about the precautions we are taking in our stores to keep our customers and associates safe. The company continues to implement extensive measures, which are already in place at our Aurora store."
Those measures include:
- Installing plexiglass barriers (sneeze guards) at checkout lanes.
- Installing floor decals in stores at both the entrances and in checkout lanes, making it easier for customers to judge the proper social distance from each other.
- Limiting the number of customers who can be in a store at the same time.
- Taking the temperatures of associates as they report to work in stores, clubs and facilities, as well as asking them some basic health screening questions specifically related to common COVID-19 symptoms.
- Requiring associates wear masks or other face coverings at work and encouraging customers and members to wear face coverings when they shop in stores.
Aguilar said she got the virus, too, but was able to recover at home.
“I am eight years younger than him and I just had a feeling I would recover,” Aguilar said.
She said her husband was an amateur photographer.
“Lupe wasn't just a security guard. He was also a respected member of the photographic community. I'm overwhelmed by all the people who have come forward. It's lovely to see. He was just loved by so many people."
And while she is grateful for the support, she believes more precautions could have been taken.
"I mean, there were two other people that died because of this,” Aguilar said. “This was my husband. He's not a statistic. He's a person."
And she said she’s speaking out in hopes of protecting others.
"It's somebody's mother, it's somebody's sister,” Aguilar said. “They're people. And all you have to do is wear a mask. That's all."
Aguilar said her husband of 25 years will certainly be missed.
"He had such a wonderful, easy-going personality,” Aguilar said. “My husband was macho. He was very tough. But, he wasn't too tough to get this disease."