Amazon confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in a U.S. warehouse when a worker at a Queens, New York, delivery station tested positive for the virus Wednesday. The spread of the virus among the company’s warehouse workers—hourly wage employees who make up the bulk of Amazon’s 600,000-person workforce—is a worrisome development and not just for the company. As millions of Americans settle into their homes over the next weeks, and likely months, they will be increasingly reliant on delivery services of all sorts, particularly Amazon’s highly developed delivery infrastructure.
What makes this latest infection particularly concerning, beyond the health of the individual and other Amazon workers, is that the science so far points to the virus being able to live on surfaces from which it can be spread. Preliminary experiments show the virus can linger for up to 24 hours on cardboard, which is particularly relevant for Amazon deliveries, and up to three days on plastic. In response to the positive test, Amazon said it had closed the facility to be disinfected. That hasn’t always been the case, though. Amazon kept open some of its European warehouses even after workers tested positive for the coronavirus in Italy and Spain. Amazon workers had already expressed anger at the company for what some felt were insufficient safeguards for worker health and paltry pay for what now amounts to a hazard posting.
Amazon and others’ delivery infrastructure in the U.S. will be a vital part of combating the virus’s spread as it allows people to minimize trips outside of their homes. It will likely have to be amended to deal with the unique challenges that the coronavirus presents for workers as well as customers. Amazon announced on Monday it intends to hire another 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers to meet heightened demand; it also said it’s giving these workers in the U.S. a $2 per hour raise through the end of April.