Amazon Says Almost 20,000 Workers Had Covid-19 in 6 Months

Amazon.com Inc. said almost 20,000 U.S. employees have tested positive for Covid-19 during a time period of a little over six months, a disclosure that follows criticism from some lawmakers and employees that the world’s largest online retailer was insufficiently transparent about outbreaks within its ranks.

The retailer said in a blog post Thursday that 19,816 workers tested positive for the respiratory disease, or were presumed positive, out of 1,372,000 U.S. front-line employees who worked for the company from March 1 to Sept. 19, an infection rate of 1.44%. The company said that if its employees contracted the virus at a rate equal to that of the general population, Amazon would have seen 33,952 cases.

Amazon has dealt with outbreaks of Covid-19 at facilities in Europe and the U.S. Company data published alongside the blog post on Thursday show that Amazon’s case rate was lower the expected rate for an employer of its size in most U.S. states where the company operates.

One exception is Minnesota, where an Amazon warehouse outside Minneapolis dealt with an outbreak among employees in which the infection rate exceeded the prevailing rate in the community, Bloomberg reported in June. The U.S. had about 7.26 million Covid-19 cases as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

In the first the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon scrambled to adjust its operations and accommodate social distancing at its hundreds of warehouses, which kept operating through state-mandated closures in March and April. At the same time, the company repeatedly declined to detail the scope of the sicknesses within its ranks, with a top logistics executive calling the figure “not a particularly useful number.”

That silence irked employees, some of whom felt they were being kept in the dark about the severity of outbreaks, and lawmakers who were seeking to identify virus hotspots. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in May led a coalition of her peers asking Amazon to make public data on infections among its workers and employees of Whole Foods, a subsidiary.

Amazon said in its blog post that it was ramping up an in-house coronavirus testing program launched earlier this year, and hoped to conduct 50,000 tests a day by next month.

The company encouraged other employers to disclose their infection rates. “Wide availability of data would allow us to benchmark our progress and share best practices across businesses and industries,” Amazon said in the unsigned blog post. “Unfortunately, there are no standards for reporting or sharing this data, and there’s very little comparable information about infection rates and quarantine rates available from other companies.”

That employee pool listed by Amazon in the blog is much larger the 876,800 workers the company said it employed worldwide at the end of June, an indication of the rapid worker hiring and turnover at warehouses.

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