Amazon confirms first Covid-19 case in Queens warehouse

Amazon confirms first Covid-19 case in Queens warehouse

By Crain’s New York

Amazon revealed an employee working at one of its Queens shipping facilities has contracted Covid-19, the first infection reported in its U.S. delivery network, which has become a lifeline of essentials for consumers sheltering at home.

Amazon temporarily closed the warehouse, which is near LaGuardia Airport—sending workers home with full pay—so it could be cleaned and sanitized. The confirmed case was in an Amazon “delivery station,” much smaller than a so-called fulfillment center, where thousands of employees work with robots to pack and ship orders. Amazon did not disclose how many people work at the Queens facility.

The U.S. giant’s delivery network has been overwhelmed by unrelenting demand from shoppers looking to stock up on supplies and heeding government advice to avoid stores and public gatherings. Monday it announced it would be hiring 100,000 workers and temporarily boosting pay by $2 per hour to keep up. It is accepting shipments to its warehouses only of essential goods including groceries, medical supplies and pet food from independent merchants selling items on its websites.

“We are supporting the individual, who is now in quarantine,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Since the early days of the virus outbreak being identified, Amazon has “implemented proactive measures to protect employees, including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries.”

The online retailer is trying to balance meeting consumer demand while keeping workers safe, a difficult task when sanitizing products are tough to find. Some Amazon delivery drivers working on California’s central coast said they were each given a single disinfecting wipe to clean large vans at the beginning of their shift Tuesday, forcing them to prioritize where to best make use of the tiny wipe on a big vehicle.

The challenge Amazon faces in keeping its frontline workers healthy and willing to work has already become apparent. After a handful of Covid-19 cases were reported in at least three Amazon depots in Europe, unions there this week called for the company to cut shifts and close the facilities for cleaning. At Amazon’s main logistics hub in Italy, where two workers were diagnosed with the disease, absenteeism hit 30% in recent weeks, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.

Amazon set up a $25 million relief fund to pay workers for up to two weeks if they get sick with the virus or miss work due to quarantines.

News of the confirmed case in Queens was reported earlier by The Atlantic.

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