Amazon said Thursday (October 1) that nearly 20,000 of its U.S. employees had tested positive, or had been presumed positive, for the coronavirus since the pandemic started spreading through the country this year.
The retailer has faced harsh criticism this year as hundreds of workers and critics have said it hasn’t done enough to keep employees safe as they work in its warehouses amid a surge in demand to send items to shoppers across the country.
Amazon said in a blog that the number of employees who have had the illness includes its workers at its grocery store chain Whole Foods Market. In total, 19,816 employees have had covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19, it said, or about 1.44% of the 1,372,000 front-line workers for Amazon during that period.
(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The tech giant has had a year of intense ups and downs due to the pandemic. Its sales have soared as people shopped more online, especially while shelter-in-place measures have been in place in many states. But some employees pushed back publicly on its working conditions, and shipping delays caused customers to vent their frustrations online.
Amazon emphasized that is at a lower infection rate than U.S. population’s, citing Johns Hopkins University numbers.
The numbers did not include the company’s delivery drivers, who are typically contracted workers, according to Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman.
The numbers only show Amazon’s infection rate in the United States, and only includes front-line employees, such as warehouse workers and Whole Foods cashiers. In March, workers in Spain and Italy tested positive for the virus and joined those in the United States and across Europe in signing a petition that called on Amazon to adopt stricter safety guidelines, The Washington Post reported.
More than 1,500 workers signed the petition and one employee called the working conditions “totally insufficient” to keep people safe.
Since then, Amazon has rolled out stricter safety measures and started its own coronavirus-testing lab to screen workers. Amazon said Thursday it now conducts “thousands” of tests each day, and has a goal to get to 50,000 tests daily at 650 sites by November.
Amazon released the state-by-state breakdown of the cases. In most states, Amazon’s infection rate was below the population as a whole. But not Minnesota and West Virginia.
In Minnesota, Amazon employees had a 3.17% infection rate, compared to 1.58% for the state as a whole. In West Virginia, Amazon’s number was 1.31%, compared to 0.94% for the state.
Amazon urged other companies to also disclose their coronavirus infection rates.
“We all have a vested interest in returning to some version of normal and safely helping our communities and the economy,” it said in its blog.
Amazon’s shipping and safety struggles during the pandemic have resulted in some boosts to its competitors including Target and Walmart. But Amazon’s revenue surged 40% to $88.9 billion in its first full quarter affected by the coronavirus fueled economic downturn.