Amazon to build its own coronavirus testing facility to monitor employees

In March, Amazon workers in at least six warehouses across the United States tested positive for COVID-19, now that number has increased by nearly ten-fold.

Boxes ready to be loaded onto a delivery truck move along a conveyor belt at the Amazon fulfilment centre in Baltimore (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boxes ready to be loaded onto a delivery truck move along a conveyor belt at the Amazon fulfilment centre in Baltimore
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amazon is reportedly building their own coronavirus testing facility after employees at over 50 warehouses across the US tested positive after contracting the virus.
According to the BBC, Amazon has put together a team to build a private "incremental testing" facility so that they may independently monitor the health of its workers, as shelter-in-place orders have sent online shopping demand through the roof.
"We have begun assembling the equipment we need to build our first lab and hope to start testing small numbers of our front line employees soon. We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant timeframe, but we think it's worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn with others," Amazon said, according to the BBC.
In March, Amazon workers in at least six warehouses across the United States tested positive for COVID-19, now that number has increased by nearly ten-fold.
Earlier in the month, Amazon employees working in warehouses in both Spain and Italy also tested positive for COVID-19 after contracting the coronavirus.
Amazon, however, says they are following the instruction of health officials regarding proper protocols in which to continue operations, taking the relevant precautions to protect their workers in the process.
"Our operations sites and grocery stores are distributing masks to employees and conducting employee temperature checks," Amazon said, according to the BBC. "A next step might be regular testing of all employees, including those showing no symptoms. Regular testing on a global scale across all industries would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running."
“We are [also] going to great lengths to keep the buildings extremely clean and help employees practice important precautions such as social distancing and other measures,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said, according to the Washington Post. “Those who don’t want to come to work are welcome to use paid and unpaid time off options and we support them in doing so.”
In light of the new cases, the Amazon workforce started a petition a few weeks back, calling on the organization to take further precautions to better protect their workers against the viral spread. 1,500 employees have since signed the petition.
Additionally, Fifteen workers at an Inc warehouse in Staten Island, New York, also walked off the job two weeks back following reports of COVID-19 among the facility's staff.
Amazon said later it fired an employee who helped organize the Staten Island action for alleged violations of his employment, including leaving a paid quarantine to participate in the demonstration. New York's attorney general said her office was "considering all legal options" in response to the firing, citing the right to organize in the state.
Workers have also protested in other countries. Dozens of Amazon workers at a facility near Florence, Italy, went on strike on as well in recent weeks.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said last week that pressure on Amazon employees to work despite inadequate protections was "unacceptable."
Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, said it has taken "extreme measures" to clean buildings and obtain safety gear and that "the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."
Less than half a percent of its more than 5,000-person workforce at the Staten Island site protested, it said.
In statements on Monday, Amazon disputed comments from one of the striking Staten Island employees, Christian Smalls, who had accused the company of mishandling warehouse operations after a confirmed case of coronavirus.
Amazon said Smalls was on a paid quarantine after having close contact with a diagnosed worker, and had "received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines," leading to his dismissal.
The company is grappling with a demand surge in the United States, where most residents are under stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that is sweeping around the globe.
In relation to the surge in demand, on Monday, Amazon will begin to put new grocery delivery customers on a wait list and curtail shopping hours at some Whole Foods stores to prioritize orders from existing customers buying food online during the coronavirus outbreak, the company said on Sunday.
Many shoppers recently seeking to purchase groceries from the Seattle-based ​e-commerce company found they could not place orders due to a lack of available delivery slots. Amazon said it would have to relegate all new online grocery customers to a wait list starting Monday while working on adding capacity each week.
The moves illustrates how the world's largest online retailer, which showed its ambition to enter the grocery industry by acquiring Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in August 2017, is now leveraging its presence both online and in physical stores to handle high demand from consumers who are stuck eating at home, with many restaurant dining rooms closed to the public.
Amazon offers grocery delivery services Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now from its own warehouses and Whole Foods stores. It typically touts ultra-fast delivery within hours, ​with shoppers able to choose a delivery window. Last month, Amazon temporarily suspended the Prime Pantry delivery service, which sells non-perishable groceries.
Amazon said its online grocery order capacity has increased by more than 60% during the outbreak. Some citizens who said they used Amazon Prime, its $119-a-year subscription service for US shoppers, have nevertheless complained on social media about the scarcity of delivery windows.
The company said it is hiring more workers to expand capacity and that it plans to launch a new feature that will help customers secure a virtual "place in line" to distribute the delivery windows on a first come, first served basis. It also offered higher pay to encourage its warehouse workers to work for its grocery delivery service, while vamping up the protection of their employees on the frontlines.