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Amazon says nearly 20,000 US employees have contracted COVID-19

Employees and state officials had been asking for this information months earlier.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read

An Amazon employee protest in late March outside a warehouse in Staten Island, New York.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Amazon for the first time publicly reported its total number of coronavirus cases in its front-line US workforce, revealing the information months after state attorneys general and activist employees called for the release of this information.

Amazon said in a blog post Thursday that 19,816 of its workers have tested positive or were presumed positive between March 1 and Sept. 19, a positivity rate of 1.44% when compared to the total number of US workers. Comparing to general population figures from Johns Hopkins University, Amazon said it would have expected 33,952 cases.

The release of the information was a reversal for Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the US, which for months avoided providing a detailed state-by-state accounting of coronavirus infections. In May, 13 state attorneys general asked this information be released. Without this information available, some employees worked together to compile estimates on the number of infections, using message alerts from the company.

Despite that prior position, Amazon is now calling on other corporations to release similar data.

"We hope sharing this data and our learnings will encourage others to follow and will prove useful as states make decisions about reopening public facilities and employers consider whether and how to bring people back to work," Amazon said.

The release of this information may rekindle worker protests against the company, which occurred regularly at the beginning of the pandemic, and embolden regulators and lawmakers to look into Amazon's safety practices just before its critical holiday shopping season. This belated effort to provide more transparency may not get Amazon any plaudits from its critics even though few major companies have taken a similar step. Meatpackers and other major retailers have also been criticized for not releasing their own nationwide statistics.

To that point, two vocal critics of Amazon quickly sent out statements on Thursday calling for government investigations into the company.

"Amazon is, in no uncertain terms, a threat to public health," Athena, an anti-Amazon coalition, said, adding that Amazon must now regularly update this data.

Additionally, news reports have come out earlier this year about a handful of Amazon employees dying from coronavirus, all from different parts of the country. Amazon didn't mention worker deaths in the blog post.

Amazon on Thursday reemphasized its work to protect its employees, saying it invested hundreds of millions of dollars in testing, distributed 100 million face masks and stepped up cleaning in its facilities. It said its social distancing protocols have ensured that far fewer employees need to quarantine when a positive case arrives than did at the beginning of the health crisis.

The company also spelled out that a positive case for an employee doesn't necessarily mean that person contracted the virus at an Amazon facility. "These individuals can be exposed in many ways outside of work," Amazon said.