A positive case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been confirmed at an Amazon warehouse in Queens, New York. This could prove to be a major threat to Amazon's operations within the US, where fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus has led to panic, with people rushing to supermarkets and grocery stores to stock up on basic utilities. At a time like this, millions of Americans have quarantined or self-isolated themselves and rely on Amazon for daily necessities. While most companies have issued work-from-home directives, Amazon employees who have to work on-site at the company's warehouse facilities feel that they are being unfairly subjected to greater risk. Moreover, Amazon is unlikely to keep up with rising demand if the workers who keep its assembly line going begin to fall sick in a domino effect. In fact, to keep up with the surge in orders from customers self-isolating at home, Amazon had announced plans to hire 100,000 more warehouse workers and increase the hourly wage by $2.
Although two Amazon office workers at its Seattle HQ had earlier tested positive for COVID-19, this is the first confirmed incident of the disease among company's hourly warehouse employees in the US. Once the positive diagnosis was confirmed, Amazon management sent day-shift workers home in order to disinfect the sorting facility, known as DBK1. However, most workers believed that they were still expected to report for the night-shift, though Amazon has denied this claim. An Amazon spokesperson told The Atlantic: "We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine. In addition to our enhanced daily deep cleaning, we’ve temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and have sent associates home with full pay”.
On March 11, Amazon has announced that all employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine would receive two weeks of sick pay. In addition, Amazon gave hourly workers unlimited unpaid time off until the end of March. However, some Amazon workers feel that these measures are insufficient, especially in New York, where coronavirus infections have spiked in the past few days. As of now, there are more than 1,800 positive COVID-19 cases in the United States.
Moreover, research suggests that the COVID-19 virus stays live on cardboard and other such packing materials for more than 24 hours, putting warehouse workers, delivery agents and even customers, at increased risk. Amazon had earlier received flak for the way it handled the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. Even though several European Amazon warehouse workers had contracted the virus, the company chose to keep facilities open, even in Italy and Spain, which have largest number of coronavirus cases in the world.