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Amazon Taps the Brakes on Covid Testing

Despite rising infection rates nationwide, Amazon is scaling back its Covid testing program for warehouse and distribution center workers.

The e-commerce giant will begin tapering off its U.S. testing operations by July 30, it told Sourcing Journal Tuesday, citing evolving guidance from health authorities, the availability of vaccines, and its own internal progress in tamping down the spread of the virus.

Widespread testing was unavailable to its workforce and communities across the country during the early days of the pandemic, the Amazon spokesperson said. The e-tailer invested in building out its own lab and working with local officials to open interim testing sites for front-line workers.

Now that free and rapid Covid testing is widely available across the U.S. through health providers and public testing sites, Amazon employees have multiple options, the spokesperson added. Amazon will offer assistance to those looking to locate those resources, but the company will no longer offer testing services to workers at its facilities across the country. According to global supply chain and logistics consultancy MWPVL International, Amazon, which has been expanding its physical footprint rapidly in recent months, now boasts 239 U.S. fulfillment centers, supplemental centers and return centers.

Over the course of the past year, Amazon has been dogged by allegations from both workers and public officials that the conditions at its facilities are unsafe and unsanitary, leading to increased Covid transmission. Employees have alleged that the company flouted public health guidelines throughout the pandemic while obfuscating data about its infection rates. A Canadian warehouse closed for two weeks in March amid a surge in infections.

A surge in company-wide cases last summer pressured Amazon to release insights into its operations. It issued a “conservative” estimate in October that 19,800 front-line workers at Amazon and Whole Foods facilities had fallen ill between March 1 and Sept. 19. California’s then-Attorney General, Xavier Beccera, followed up on the revelation by filing a petition in the Sacramento County Superior Court demanding that Amazon respond to outstanding subpoenas regarding warehouse conditions in the state, which experienced numerous outbreaks throughout the year.

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As recently as this past May, the company was fined $41,000 for Covid safety violations at its Rialto, Calif. warehouse. Amazon neglected to disclose any of the 217 coronavirus cases reported by employees from April through October, 2020 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA).

While the Amazon spokesperson noted that the company is aiming to resume normal operations, Covid remains a real and measurable threat across the U.S., including the locales that house some of its busiest warehouses and DCs.

In California—which is home to 153,000 Amazon employees, according to company data from Q4 of 2020—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated most counties’ rates of Covid transmission as “moderate” to “substantial.” With more Amazon workers than any other state, California has been hit hard by the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus. The strain now makes up 83 percent of sequenced cases in the U.S., up from 50 percent on July 3, the CDC said Tuesday.

In Los Angeles County, the percentage of daily positive Covid tests has risen over the course of the past month from about 0.75 percent on June 20 to more than 3 percent as of July 20, according to the L.A. Department of Public Health (DPH). On July 12, DPH officials noted a 25 percent increase in Covid outbreaks from the month prior.

While the county’s public mask mandate was lifted on June 15, it was reinstated just one month later following the alarming rise in infections. Masks are now required for all employees not fully vaccinated while indoors and riding in shared vehicles, DPH said, and the department is urging those who work in close contact with others to consider higher forms of protection, like double-masking or N95 respirators. Employers are also required to report any “cluster” of more than three lab-confirmed Covid cases at a single worksite within 14 days. Amazon told Sourcing Journal it is prepared to immediately resume its employee testing program following any changes in guidance from public health officials.