The Faribault Walmart closed at 2 p.m. Friday to deep clean and sanitize the story. It will reopen at 7 a.m. Sunday. (Michelle Vlasak/Faribault Daily News)

After a couple of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, the Faribault Walmart Supercenter on Western Avenue closed at 2 p.m. for a deep cleaning and sanitizing.

Lisa Nelson, the director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart in Minnesota, said that the company's decision was based on guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health.

"We can't comment on the cases in our stores for the protection of our associates, but this is based on advice from the local public health," Nelson said, confirming that the decision to close for additional cleaning is directly related to COVID-19. "We are taking whatever measures necessary to protect the people coming into our store."

Nelson said that the Faribault Walmart will remain closed until 7 a.m. Sunday to allow appropriate time for the cleaning and sanitizing by a third party company and restocking of the facility.

According to Nelson, this is part of a company-wide initiative to properly clean and sanitize Walmart stores across the nation based on  the appearance of COVID-19. Recently, Nelson said they implemented the same program at the Walmart located in St. Cloud.

“All of our stores are being cleaned on a regular bases, we’ve even changed the hours of operation in our 24-hour stores to allow for cleaning to occur in the evening hours at every location,” Nelson said. “We are monitoring all of our stores on a case-by-case basis to provide the proper cleaning and safety measures based on advice from experts.”

According to Deb Purfeerst, the director of Rice County Public Health, there have been at least a handful of Walmart staff who have recently tested positive for COVID-19. As a part of their business outreach program, the Public Health's emergency preparedness coordinator, Tracy Ackman-Shaw, reached out to the business Wednesday to begin working through the proper procedures and providing additional resources.

“We want to make sure that we are in touch with all businesses if they have any questions or cases of COVID-19,” said Ackman-Shaw. “I will say that [Walmart] has a good screening process for their employees and are already very attentive to their needs. They are doing things correctly.”

Ackman-Shaw said that guidance to temporarily close a facility for deep cleaning when a positive case of COVID-19 occurs among staff comes from the Minnesota Department of Health, but that Rice County Public Health supports any business that feels it should take that course of action.

“We will encourage businesses that if they feel it is necessary that they should close to clean and disinfect, but every business is going to have a different tipping point on when they want or feel that is necessary,” Ackman-Shaw said. “It’s always good when a company decides to do that because it helps everybody’s public health and safety. It is a big expense and cost to not be open for sales, but for the general public I think it helps boost confidence for their shoppers to come back. It all makes a difference.”

Ackman-Shaw said that the staff at Walmart requested additional education materials on COVID-19 and how to prevent the spread that can be posted throughout the facility, something she said they are happy to supply and have available in three different languages: English, Somali and Spanish.

“It’s just always good to have reminders out there that when you’re in public places it’s encouraged to wear a mask, to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and to not touch your face,” Ackman-Shaw said. “Keep in mind that 6-feet social distancing, and when you’re shopping people tend to want to touch things and pick them up, so maybe really think through that ‘if I’m going to touch it I’m going to buy it.’ Being conscious when shopping and minimizing the number of things you are touching makes a big difference in helping to prevent the spread.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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