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Photo contributed by Dave Flessner / Walmart Supercenter in Hixson, Tennessee

This story was updated on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at 6:36 p.m.

Walmart temporarily closed its Highway 153 store for 40 hours, starting Tuesday afternoon, to help sanitize and restock the Hixson retail complex after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the area and among Walmart workers or shoppers.

Walmart will reopen the Hixson store at 6 a.m. Thursday morning after outside cleaning services help sanitize the superstore, which includes a grocery, pharmacy and several other retail outlets in the Oak Park Town Center at 5764 Highway 153.

"Several areas across the country have seen a renewed increase in positive COVID-19 cases, and we want to assist health officials working against the pandemic," Walmart communications director Brian Little said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "In support of this effort, we have chosen to temporarily close our Hixson location at 5764 Highway 153 today (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. as part of a company-initiated program. This will allow extra time for a third-party specialist to further sanitize the store and will also give our associates additional time to restock shelves and prepare the store to once again serve the community."

Walmart's closing of its Hixson store comes 11 months after the retail giant made a similar temporary closing of its Kimball, Tennessee when COVID-19 cases spiked last year in Marion County and several Walmart employees were infected with the coronavirus.

"Everything we're doing is for the well-being of our associates and the thousands of customers we serve daily, and in consideration of guidance by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health experts," Little said. "Given the rise in positive cases through the Delta variant, we will follow CDC guidance, which includes fully vaccinated people wearing masks in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission."

Walmart has required all of its non-vaccinated employees to wear masks in areas with high rates of Covid infections, including Tennessee. Walmart also is offering a $150 bonus for workers to get vaccinated and is providing up to three days paid leave for employees who get vaccinated and experience an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

"When the store reopens (Thursday), we will continue conducting associate health assessments, and all unvaccinated associates must still wear face coverings," Little said.

Walmart declined to identify how many of its employees are infected with the Covid-19 virus at the Hixson store. Holden Young, a spokesman for the Hamilton County Health Department, said the county "is not aware of any outbreak or cluster in this area."

On Tuesday, the county counted another 183 Covid-19 infections, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 60,404 since the start of 2020. On Tuesday, 101 persons in Hamilton County were hospitalized for Covid-19 infections. So far, 608 persons have died from the coronavirus in Hamilton County

In Hamilton County, 48.2% of the population is now fully vaccinated, according to the Hamilton County Department of Health.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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