Amazon Says 20K Frontline Workers Got COVID-19
Amazon said Friday that 19,816 of its employees have tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19. The announcement marks the first such disclosure from a major retailer during the pandemic.
That number represents 1.44% of Amazon’s 1.372 million frontline workers (including Whole Foods Market employees). The figures cover the period from March 1 to Sept. 19. In a blog, Amazon — which has come under fire from warehouse workers, politicians and unions for not doing enough to protect its labor force, and for not disclosing such figures earlier — sold that figure as a success.
“We compared COVID-19 case rates to the general population, as reported by Johns Hopkins University for the same period, accounting for geography and the age composition of our employees to make the data as accurate as possible,” Amazon said in an unsigned blog. “Based on this analysis, if the rate among Amazon and Whole Foods Market employees were the same as it is for the general population rate, we estimate that we would have seen 33,952 cases among our workforce.”
The disclosure of those figures also came with some highlights of Amazon’s testing efforts during the pandemic.
“When it became clear in March that testing Amazon employees for COVID-19 was going to be of critical importance, we assembled a team with a variety of skills—from research scientists and program managers to procurement specialists and software engineers—and moved them from their day jobs to focus on this initiative,” Amazon said in that blog. “We also hired dozens of lab technicians and others to build a world-class laboratory team. We've already launched and are ramping quickly, conducting thousands of tests a day and growing to 50,000 tests a day across 650 sites by November as part of our effort to keep our front-line employees safe. And because we've built this testing capacity ourselves, we're adding to the total number of tests available—not taking supply from others.”
Among the states where the infection rates are highest for Amazon employees were:
- Minnesota, with an Amazon actual case rate of 3.17%
- Florida, 2.49%
- Nevada, 2.45%
- Alabama, 2.40%
- Mississippi, 2.03%
- Arizona, 1.99%
- Texas, 1.93%
- Georgia, 1.88%
Amazon also provided some evidence of how much work goes into protecting retail and warehouse workers from the coronavirus — a process that no doubt has been replicated on a smaller scale by some of Amazon’s rivals.
“We've introduced or changed over 150 processes to ensure the health and safety of our teams, including distributing over 100 million face masks, implementing temperature checks at sites around the world, mandating enhanced cleaning procedures at all of our sites, and introducing extensive social distancing measures to reduce the risk for our employees,” Amazon said. “We've eliminated stand-up meetings during shifts, moved information sharing to bulletin boards, staggered break times, and spread out chairs in breakrooms, among other steps. Cleaning occurs across each site about every 90 minutes to sanitize door handles, stairway handrails, lockers, elevator buttons, and touch screens.”
It was not immediately clear if other retailers would follow Amazon’s example and release similar figures. Now that Amazon has done so, the company is calling for others to do the same.
“This information would be more powerful if there were similar data from other major employers to compare it to,” Amazon said. “Wide availability of data would allow us to benchmark our progress and share best practices across businesses and industries. 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.”
Seattle-based Amazon is No. 2 on Progressive Grocer’s 2020 PG 100 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods is No. 24 on PG's list.