Amazon says 19,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 as it reveals pandemic data for first time

An Amazon employee enters the company’s fulfillment center in Kent, Wash., and is handed a mask, from another employee using tongs, before he can begin a shift in the massive package handling warehouse. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon released figures on Thursday that for the first time detail the spread of the coronavirus among its employees. The tech giant revealed that more than 19,000 workers have tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19.

The company said it has conducted an analysis of data on 1.3 million front-line employees who worked for Amazon and Whole Foods in the U.S. from March 1 to Sept. 19 and compared rates to the general population during that time. Amazon said that if the rate would have been the same among its employees as it is for the general population, it would have seen 33,952 cases among the workforce. Instead, its figure of 19,816 was 42% lower.

A state-by-state chart of case rates among front-line employees along with additional details about methodology and data sources was also released.

Amazon first announced in April that it was assembling a team of its own workers with a variety of skills, including research scientists, program managers, software engineers and procurement specialists, to start building out testing capacity. An in-house pilot testing program for employees was confirmed in May.

The company now says it is conducting thousands of tests a day and will grow to 50,000 tests a day across 650 sites by November.

It credits an array of its own initiatives in keeping positive numbers down, including safety measures in warehouses and fulfillment centers. The company previously said it was spending $800 million on COVID-19 safety precautions, and $4 billion on its larger COVID-19 initiatives in the second quarter alone.

Amazon workers are shown practicing social distancing as their efforts are monitored by cameras and a video display, at left. (Amazon Photo)

Throughout the pandemic, the company had declined to disclose the total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed at its facilities as it came under fire from employees and legislators as cases of COVID-19 rippled through its fulfillment network. Some called on Amazon to temporarily shut down facilities where cases were being reported.

At least eight warehouse workers have died from the virus. A worker who organized an early walkout over safety at a New York facility was fired — Amazon insists it was for breaking quarantine, not for organizing the walkout — and several employees and their relatives are suing the company for what they call inadequate safety measures.

Employee activists have pressed the company to better protect warehouse workers as part of a larger campaign against what they call “a vein of toxicity” running through the company.

There have been more than 7.2 million reported cases of coronavirus infection in the U.S. and at least 207,400 deaths.

In its blog post Thursday, Amazon said “few if any companies and no other major retailers” have publicly shared such infection-rate data.

“This is not an arena where companies should compete — this is an arena where companies should help one another,” Amazon said.

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