Amazon is developing a coronavirus test lab for workers

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The e-commerce giant has started assembling the equipment to build a facility and said in a blog post on Thursday that it hopes to “start testing a small number of our front line workers soon.” Amazon says it has started to develop “incremental testing capacity” against what governments might put in place.

Amazon has acknowledged that its efforts may not be ready until the end of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We do not know how far we will go in the time limit, but we think it is worth a try, and we are ready to share everything we learn with others,” the company wrote.

Amazon is working on antigen testing – a diagnostic test to determine if a person is infected, as opposed to a blood test that could detect antibodies produced by the immune system when a person is exposed to the virus. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

Last week, Reuters reported that Amazon had been in contact with chief executive officers of Abbott and Thermo Fisher Scientific laboratories to find equipment to screen workers for viruses.

The botched deployment of federal testing efforts has led a handful of companies to develop their own kits. But the tests are still extremely limited. In San Francisco, for example, less than 1% of the population has been tested. It is unclear whether other employers are working in laboratories to test their own workers.

“Regular global testing across all industries would contribute to both personal safety and the recovery and functioning of the economy,” Amazon writes in its blog. “But, for this to work, we, as a society, would need much more testing capacity than what is currently available.

In addition to acquiring the equipment, Amazon said it had also transferred researchers, program managers, purchasing specialists and software engineers from their day jobs to a team dedicated to the initiative.

Amazon has been overwhelmed by the crushing of orders from buyers, many of whom have turned to the online retailer as they stay at home for weeks or more on orders from cities and states. As a result, the company delayed the shipment of non-essential goods to prioritize the staple foods, such as toilet paper and bleach, that were lacking during the coronavirus epidemic.

As it struggles to meet the needs of buyers, the company has also faced increasing pressure from employees and politicians to better protect warehouse and ship workers from the virus. Employees protested in New York, Michigan and Illinois to demand personal protective equipment, as well as changes to the rules regarding the speed at which they must work, which could discourage safe sanitation practices.

Amazon started giving face masks to warehouse workers this week and is now checking employee temperatures when they start their shifts, sending workers home for three days if they register at 100.4 degrees or more. And the company has imposed new rules to ensure workers keep safe distances from each other.

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