Amazon says it could soon test some warehouse workers for coronavirus

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Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company’s Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. Workers at the facility, which has had numerous employees test positive for the coronavirus, want to call attention to what they say is a lack of protections for employees who continue to come to work amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Amazon said on Thursday that it’s working on developing coronavirus tests that could be used to help protect warehouse workers, who are particularly exposed to the disease.

In a blog post, the company said it has started building “incremental test capacity” that could eventually result in “regular testing of all employees, including those showing no symptoms.” 

Amazon said it has mobilized employees across the company, including research scientists, program managers, procurement specialists and software engineers, to form a dedicated team that will work on developing coronavirus tests. The team is in its early stages, having obtained the necessary equipment to build its first lab, Amazon said.

Once work is underway, the hope is “to start testing small numbers of our front line employees soon,” Amazon said. “We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant time frame, but we think it’s worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn with others.” 

Since the breakout of the pandemic, dozens of Amazon warehouses across the country have reported cases of COVID-19, and staffers have vocalized their concerns that the company isn’t sufficiently protecting them while on the job. Many workers have called for Amazon to shut down facilities where people have tested positive and to screen employees for the virus. 

It’s unclear how many employees are a part of the test development team or how many workers will be included in the trial groups. Representatives from Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Amazon initially hinted at its desire to test workers for the virus in internal meeting notes obtained by Reuters. The notes said the company has been in contact with coronavirus test makers Abbott Laboratories and Thermo Fischer Scientific and that Amazon hopes to start tests at a Seattle warehouse, before rolling them out more broadly, according to Reuters.

In response to employee pressure, Amazon has announced a number of new safety measures at its facilities in recent weeks. The company increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all of its sites and began requiring that employees sanitize and clean their work stations at the start and end of every shift. It also started taking employees’ temperatures when they report to work and has supplied them with face masks.

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