Amazon is working to restart a coronavirus testing program for warehouse workers after shuttering its on-site testing facilities earlier this summer, according to a current Amazon employee familiar with the project. The program, code-named Sunrise, relies on Amazon’s take-home coronavirus test kits, the employee said.

An Amazon spokesperson neither confirmed nor disputed the existence of the Sunrise project. The company is “discussing a number of options related to testing,” the spokesperson said in an email, and is “watching governmental guidance closely.”

The new testing program could help Amazon, the nation’s second-largest employer, adhere to the terms of last week’s presidential mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers either require their workers to be vaccinated, or be tested for the virus weekly.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

Unlike many of its tech sector peers, Amazon has shied away from requiring its 950,000 U.S. employees to get vaccinated — reportedly because some executives fear that instituting a vaccine mandate could cause many of its front-line hourly workers to quit. Amid record-high job openings, Amazon is scrambling to fill hourly warehouse roles before the start of the holiday shopping season. In recent weeks, the company has offered signing bonuses of up to $3,000 at some locations and pledged to reimburse education-related expenses for hourly workers who stay with the company longer than three months.

“We strongly believe that the best way to protect our front-line employees and communities from COVID-19 is through vaccinations,” the Amazon spokesperson said in an email. “And we are proud to have hosted more than 1,500 on-site vaccination events to help make getting a vaccination as easy as possible for our employees and their household members.”

Advertising

In the months following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Amazon built extensive on-site coronavirus testing infrastructure for its warehouse employees. The company constructed two laboratories that ultimately processed more than one million tests from employees, collected from nearly 750 Amazon sites worldwide, before winding down its on-site testing facilities in July amid what would prove to be a short-lived dip in nationwide case counts.

At the time, the company said it had decided to end its coronavirus testing program because of “the progress we have made and improvements in public health conditions we are observing across the country,” spokesperson Kim LaFleur said in an email.

Case counts began to tick upward as the summer progressed, largely due to the proliferation of the more-infectious delta variant of the virus, prompting many companies to push back their returns to the office and reinstitute some health measures, like mask requirements, that they had scrapped earlier this year.

Amazon has touted what it says are relatively low rates of coronavirus infection among its employees, compared to the general population, as a victory for stringent social distancing and other health measures instituted in its warehouses.

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

More