'We're exposed every day:' Most Wisconsin grocery employees working without PPE amid COVID-19

MILWAUKEE -- Grocery store employees are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they don't work in hospitals, and they don't wear a badge -- with most working in close proximity to a steady stream of customers without any personal protective equipment.

Governor Tony Evers' "Stay at Home" order took effect Wednesday morning, March 25, but from the looks of most grocery store parking lots, it was tough to tell.

"People gotta eat," said Melanie Potratz, Pick 'n Save employee. "We have to survive. We just gotta keep going, day by day."

Grocery workers told FOX6 they're scared they're being exposed, they have no hand sanitizer, no protective gear, and customers aren't maintaining a six-foot distance.

"I come in contact with a lot of people each day," said Manny, a Kwik Trip employee.

"I'm not comfortable working, but we have to have money," said Potratz.

"Due to this crisis, we're (in the building, filling orders) constantly," said David Tribble, who fills online orders for Woodman's.

"And that's where your concern is -- you're just mixing with these people all day long?" asked FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn.

"Absolutely, absolutely," said Tribble.

Tribble said the company has been unable to provide them with personal protective equipment, like face masks.

"We'll just constantly run to the bathroom, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer, which we do have, but we had a big jug of hand sanitizer, and it's out because we used it so much," said Tribble.

"I am concerned," said Manny, the Kwik Trip employee.

He said officials at the Kwik Trip he works at are doing a good job sanitizing the store every 30 minutes, but worries customers could bring the virus in.

"My main concern is not for me, but moreso for my family," said Manny.

The FOX6 Investigators reached out to seven local grocery chains to find out what they're doing to protect workers. Five responded -- Sendik's, Meijer,Woodman's, ALDI, and Roundy's.

"It's been challenging," said James Hyland with Roundy's Supermarkets, a division of Kroger, which operates more than 100 stores in Wisconsin, mostly Pick' n Saves. "For purposes of social distancing, we currently have lines marked on the floor in front of all registers, in front of the pharmacy, the self-checkout lanes."

Hyland said those lines will soon be replaced with decals that say, "Please wait here," and that they're planning to add plexiglass shields in checkout lanes.

"You should see it here shortly," said Hyland. "I don't have a date for you, but they're coming."

Plexiglass shield

Still, Hyland said Roundy's hasn't been able to supply workers with face masks. They approached the governor for help, but he said they have to wait in line behind health care workers and first responders.

"We think our people, you know, being in the situation they are, are as exposed as anyone," said Hyland.

"Right now, we're exposed to it every day, even if we don't know it," said Tribble.

Tribble said he knows the upside to being essential is that you still have a job, but just because you're essential doesn't mean you're safe.