For many across the world, online retail services like Amazon have become a lifeline, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces self- and government-imposed isolation. Warehouse employees and gig workers have become a key frontline in the effort to socially distance, all while risking their health to do so.
At last count, workers at at least six Amazon facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, spanning much of the country east of the Rockies. The first case cropped up in a Queens, NY facility, followed by Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma. Other facilities in the aforementioned states, including one in Staten Island — NYC’s largest fulfillment center — have also cropped up. As with all of these of these stories, this very much feels like the tip of the spear, as the virus continues to gain traction.
Asked what precautions the company is tacking to both support workers and curb the spread, an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We are supporting the individuals, following guidelines from local officials, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of all the employees at our sites.”
Individuals who test positive will be sent home for a paid 14-day quarantine. Amazon says it’s also ramped up the rates with which it cleans facilities, including everything from touchscreens to door handles.
The novel coronavirus can live on a number of surfaces for an extended period. Per the New England Journal of medicine, “SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces.” Scary numbers, to be sure, but the detectable levels is greatly reduced over that time. So, you know, keep washing your hands, but don’t freak out.
In a recent open letter to Amazon staff, CEO Jeff Bezos noted, “My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role. I want you to know Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won’t stop looking for new opportunities to help.”
Among the few important victories for workers is the long awaited and hard fought for arrival of PTO for those working more than 20 hours. COVID undoubtedly moved the needle on that one.