Thanks to unprecedented circumstances, Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to Amazon shareholders became a report almost exclusively about COVID-19 this year.
Amidst heated criticism from warehouse workers over Amazon’s workplace safety lately—(more than ten Amazon facilities across the country have reported COVID-19 cases—Bezos dedicated the first section of his annual letter, released on Thursday, to highlighting the many safety measures Amazon has recently implemented to protect warehouse and delivery workers, including distributing face masks, conducting temperature checks, strictly enforcing social distancing and so on.
He then announced an aggressive plan to have all of Amazon employees, including those showing no symptoms, regularly tested for COVID-19 to ensure long-term safety. While it’s a challenging enough idea for Amazon’s 750,000 people workforce, Bezos is already proposing to push it to a global scale so that we can re-open economy while the coronavirus is still out there.
“Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running,” the Amazon CEO wrote. “For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available. If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus.”
The logic is straightforward, and the view is echoed by lawmakers who are thinking about a plan to re-open the U.S. economy. Putting the plan into action for a large country like the U.S., though, is more complicated than an overnight project. As of April 15, only 9.78 people out of 1,000 in the U.S. had been tested for COVID-19, according to data complied by Our World in Data. The testing rate is up 300 percent from two weeks ago, but still lags behind other virus-hit countries, such as Italy and South Korea.
Leading by example among private-sector players, Bezos said Amazon is moving around manpower to build up its own testing capacity. “A team of Amazonians—from research scientists and program managers to procurement specialists and software engineers—moved from their normal day jobs onto a dedicated team to work on this initiative,” he wrote. “We have begun assembling the equipment we need to build our first lab and hope to start testing small numbers of our frontline employees soon.”
“We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant timeframe,” Bezos added, “but we think it’s worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn.”