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Tim Hortons staff in London, Ont., say they worked together not knowing co-worker positive for COVID-19

Employees at a busy Tim Hortons in London, Ont., are speaking out about the way a recent outbreak at the coffee shop was handled after four workers tested positive for COVID-19. 

Public health says 4 employees at busy location have tested positive but risk to the public is low

Multiple employees told CBC News they only became aware they needed to get COVID-19 screening after a co-worker notified them of a positive test. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Employees at a busy Tim Hortons in London, Ont., are speaking out about the way a recent outbreak at the coffee shop was handled after four workers tested positive for COVID-19. 

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) said Thursday it declared the outbreak at the Commissioners and Adelaide Street location, which continues to operate as a drive-thru site.  

CBC News spoke to three of the four people who tested positive for COVID-19. They say Tim Hortons did not tell them when the first employee was found to be positive on April 11, allowing the others to continue working in close quarters over multiple days.  

"They knew [someone had tested positive] before we went to work and then they still allowed us to go to work," one employee said from quarantine.

CBC News is not publishing the names of the employees as they fear their shifts will be cut for speaking publicly. 

"I'm very angry," said another employee. "I just felt like they don't respect me as a person."  

The public health unit sent a letter telling the employees to get tested following the contact tracing process. But by then, the workers say, they'd already worked together at the takeout window.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit said no high-risk exposures within the public have been identified, but people should always be monitoring for symptoms. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

CBC News reached out to the Tim Hortons location but no one answered the phone.

In a statement, the company's corporate media spokesperson said the company hopes to see staff back once the self-isolation period is completed.

Employees will be supported for any lost wages through the Tim Hortons corporate and restaurant owner COVID-19 compensation fund, the statement read.

"Following public health guidelines, the restaurant was closed for cleaning and sanitization and is currently open, operating drive-thru only at this time ... until a full set of team members can return," it said.

Some of the employees say they are symptomatic but all are recovering at home. What worries them is whether they've passed the virus on to customers.

"We serve hundreds of people a day and none of them know," one employee said. "People come through the drive-thru to get coffee, and to think that there could have been multiple positive COVID cases on the floor at the time, serving these people ... and no one saying anything."

Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health for the MLHU, called the risk of transmission to the public low.

Nevertheless, he said, testing is underway on more employees and any close contacts of those confirmed to have tested positive.

The health unit has also been in contact with the franchise to ensure its infection prevention procedures are up to date. 

"Sometimes, unfortunately, because of the amount of transmission that might have happened in the workplace, all of the employees have to quarantine and, as a result, the workplace may have to shut down," said Summers. 

On Friday, the Tim Hortons drive-thru was open on a reduced schedule.

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