As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, Amazon said it would begin screening employees for elevated temperatures each day, starting at sites in Seattle and New York City, as “an additional preventive measure.”
Federal health officials recommended March 11 that all employers in the Seattle area screen anyone entering work sites for symptoms of coronavirus, including daily temperature screenings. Amazon, which has seen a growing number of employees in its huge fulfillment and delivery network test positive for COVID-19 — including at its Kent fulfillment center — had not been screening workers for symptoms.
In a statement Sunday, Amazon said it intends to expand daily temperature screenings to other sites as quickly as possible.
The company has not provided an official tally of how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19 or at what locations. Reuters reported Saturday at least 17 Amazon locations had employees who had tested positive.
Employees in recent days described heat-sensing or infrared cameras at fulfillment centers, including in Kent, but said they weren’t yet being used. Last week, an Amazon spokesperson said the company had advised workers to “self-screen through on-site resources including posters and signage.”
Other large employers in the Seattle area, an early epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, did not screen employees’ temperatures — counter to suggestions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health officials.
Boeing, which had 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its area work force as of Friday and one death, did not undertake temperature screening before it ultimately shuttered its Puget Sound area factories.
“Benchmarking with other companies has shown that temperature screening is unreliable in part due to the number of false positives,” Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi wrote in an email.
He pointed to a CDC report indicating that during three weeks in February, travelers arriving at 11 U.S. airports from China were screened for fever, cough and shortness of breath. Out of 46,016 people screened at airports from Feb. 2 to Feb. 23, 11 were referred to hospitals for testing, and one tested positive for COVID-19, according to the report.
Choi said Boeing was “encouraging employees to check in on their health and how they are feeling as part of their team’s daily tag-up meetings at the start of each shift.” Those feeling unwell were to be sent home by managers.
Some Amazon employees have criticized the lack of symptom screenings and the company’s decision not to close sites where it has confirmed COVID-19-positive employees for deep cleaning.
CNBC reported Sunday a group of nearly 100 employees at an Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island, where an employee tested positive, planned a work stoppage for Monday in protest. Amazon also did not close the Kent fulfillment center after telling employees working there Friday that one of their number had tested positive for COVID-19.
Amazon said in a statement, “The health and safety of our employees is our top priority and the vast majority of our employees continue to come to work and deliver for customers. We understand the past few weeks has been a very challenging time and we deeply value our employees as they serve the people in their communities in a way that very few can — delivering critical supplies directly to the doorsteps of people who need them.”
The statement reiterated the company is closely following guidance from local health officials and is going to “extreme measures to keep the building extremely clean with enhanced cleaning and sanitation and efforts to enforce social distancing, to name a few.”
Several Puget Sound-area Amazon warehouse workers have said that such measures were slow to arrive at their work sites, if they were implemented at all.