As Amazon struggles to meet the extraordinary demand for deliveries amid the global coronavirus pandemic, the company has instituted several policies intended to curb the spread of covid-19 among its warehouse workers. But positive cases continue to crop up in warehouses full of employees risking their health to continue showing up for work each day.
Things are particularly bad at warehouse AVP1 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where Bloomberg reports there are “at least” 21 confirmed cases of covid-19. Citing an internal email, the publication reported that a manager at a different Amazon facility in Pennsylvania directed employees not to touch incoming shipments from AVP1 for a period of 24 hours as a precautionary measure in light of the outbreak. Bloomberg reviewed texts and voicemails confirming the existence of the 21 cases at the Hazleton facility, but three employees who spoke with the outlet expressed to Bloomberg that additional cases may not have been included in that figure.
In a statement to Gizmodo, Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty said the manager directive not to touch shipments coming from AVP1 “was an error in communication made locally with positive intentions but was misinformed—it has since been corrected.”
“Based on guidance from the CDC, the WHO, and the Surgeon General, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through packages,” Lighty added. “It’s a belief within the infectious disease community that if there was transmission through packages there would have been immediate global spread early in the outbreak, that did not happen and it confirms the risk as incredibly low.”
According to Bloomberg, employees at AVP1 were made aware of the first case of covid-19 at the facility on March 26, followed by the disclosure of more cases in the days following. Amazon has instituted a temporary policy to accommodate unpaid leave for employees who would prefer to shelter at home during the pandemic—a measure that some employees at AVP1 evidently seized on. Bloomberg cited two facility workers who said that Amazon the following week brought in “dozens” of new workers to AVP1 as part of its current hiring spree. Workers expressed to the outlet that they believe Amazon is using the new hires to fill their temporarily vacant positions. Trainers at AVP1 expressed concern about bringing in people from NYC who could be carrying the virus and having to operate with so many people new to the job.
Amazon has been facing increased pressure in recent weeks to roll out better protections for workers in its warehouses who are effectively on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. Early on in the outbreak, Amazon failed to adequately equip workers with gloves, masks, and other PPE, and even failed to enforce the basic social distance protocol of maintaining six feet of distance between individuals recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The failure to better protect employees during this critical time has come under fire by lawmakers who have called on the company’s CEO Jeff Bezos to take additional measures for protecting these critical workers.
Bloomberg reported Monday that AVP1, the Pennsylvania facility where covid-19 cases have jumped to nearly two dozen, is currently under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Added comment from Amazon.