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Amazon Shuts Down New York City Warehouse After Worker Tests Positive for Coronavirus

— March 19, 2020

Amazon workers across the world say they’re being unnecessarily exposed to the potentially fatal disease.

Amazon has shut down one of its New York warehouses after a worker tested positive for coronavirus.

Rena Lunak, an Amazon spokesperson, told The Atlantic that a warehouse employee tested positive for COVID-19 at a delivery station in New York City. While Lunak wouldn’t divulge details of the worker’s identity, she did say the affected individual is now in quarantine.

Amazon, in response, has enhanced its “daily deep cleaning” to protect other employees from falling sick.

“We’ve temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and have sent associates home with full pay,” Lunak told The Atlantic.

According to The Atlantic, coronavirus has posed a significant threat to Amazon’s global operations. With a national emergency in effect—and shelter-in-place orders enacted in some parts of the country—Amazon has received a massive uptick in orders. And so far, the company’s struggled to meet demand.

Yet as self-isolated and quarantined people across the world increasingly turn to online fulfilment websites like Amazon, warehouse employees have begun raising questions about their own safety. Their concerns are highlighted not only by the COVID-19 case in Queens, but Amazon, and the virus’s, global reach.

People in China wearing face masks during the 2019-2020 coronavirus outbreak. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Studio Incendo. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The Washington Post, for instance, spoke to a warehouse worker in Spain; that employee told the paper several of his colleagues have been quarantined with coronavirus-like symptoms, while two others tested positive for COVID.

“It’s an atmosphere of fear—huge fear right now,” said employee Luismi Ruiz, who’s worked with Amazon in Spain since November 2012. Ruiz, notes the Post, is also a union representative. Amazon has sought to alleviate employees’ concerns by improving sanitation, spraying disinfectant in warehouses and staggering employee breaks.

“Those measures are totally insufficient,” Ruiz said.

Workers in Queens relayed similar concerns to The Atlantic, saying they don’t think Amazon’s efforts will curtail the spread of coronavirus. New York City alone hosts an estimated fifth of all known COVID-19 cases in the entire country. And while the virus most often spreads from person-to-person contact—making urban areas hotbeds for transmission—it can also survive on carboard for up to 24 hours, elevating the possibility that employees and delivery recipients could get sick just from handling packages.

Kelly Cheeseman, another Amazon spokeswoman, told the Post that, regardless of what anyone says, the company is going to great lengths to ensure the safety of its workers.

“We are going to great lengths to keep the buildings extremely clean and help employees practice important precautions such as social distancing and other measures,” Cheeseman said. “Those who don’t want to come to work are welcome to use paid and unpaid time off options and we support them in doing so.”

Cheeseman’s response, though, appears to push responsibility off onto employees, rather than recognizing the role Amazon’s continued operations could have in spreading coronavirus.

One worker at the Queens warehouse—who requested The Atlantic shield her identity, for fear of retaliation—said she doesn’t think Amazon’s warehouses should still be operational. That same employee participated in a late-night strike Wednesday. She and her coworkers gathered outside the warehouse, then refused to work their shift.

“We should be home with our families in quarantine like most everyone else is,” she said. “We’re putting our lives in danger.”


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