Grocery stores have been a lifeline throughout this pandemic, but data finds the virus has reached many of the workers keeping us well-stocked and fed.

For the last year, grocery store workers have been on the front lines putting food on shelves and putting their lives at risk.

“When everything was locked up and closed, the grocery stores had to stay open and it was the only place people could go,” said Abraham Wangnoo, Northern Director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Wangnoo says it’s nearly impossible for workers not to come in contact with the coronavirus, and there need to be barriers in place. Like requiring face masks, offering online ordering and even limiting how many people can be in the store at once.

Wangnoo added, “The day before Christmas is like one of the busiest days of the year. They said every single day is busier than the day before Christmas in grocery stores.”

According to the UFCW, more than 20,000 grocery store workers have been infected or exposed to COVID-19 in the U.S.

“Any public place where people gather is susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak, whether it’s a grocery store or shopping center,” said North Dakota Epidemeoligist, Levi Schossler.

Experts say that just one person’s cough can spread the virus several aisles over. Grocery store chains in North Dakota have included safeguards like plexiglass and signs to mark social distancing and mask usage.

“It’s been a big deal even before the COVID pandemic, but this has really put a heightened awareness on,” said Minot Cash Wise Foods Manager, Justin Crocker.

Crocker says his store has started doing online ordering and curbside pick up. He says it’s been very popular and has also cut down on some of the foot traffic inside the store. But there is only so much they can do. He says a lot of it depends on the customers.

Crocker added, “We’ve all heard. Social distancing. Wearing the mask, and staying home if you’re sick.”

The CDC has recommended that grocery store employees be included in the next round of vaccinations. In North Dakota, where vaccine Phase 1A is still underway, while grocery workers fall under Phase 1C.

First District Health Unit says it will be receiving 1,000 doses of the vaccine next week.