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Amazon Closes Kentucky Warehouse After Workers Test Positive

Empty parking lots surround an Amazon distribution center in Shepherdsville, Ky., that has been closed for cleaning after several employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Bryan Woolston
Empty parking lots surround an Amazon distribution center in Shepherdsville, Ky., that has been closed for cleaning after several employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon has closed a warehouse in Shepherdsville, Ky., until April 1, after several workers there tested positive for the coronavirus — the first prolonged closure of a facility confirmed by the company.

Workers in at least 10 other warehouses across the country have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting shorter temporary closures for sanitation and cleaning.

"At the order of the Governor the [Kentucky] site is closed until April 1st," an Amazon spokeswoman told NPR in an email Thursday. "We will continue to work closely with health department and the Governor to reopen the site."

The retail giant, which employs some 800,000 workers globally, has not confirmed a total number of its warehouse or delivery staff who have tested positive with COVID-19. Workers and local news reports have flagged positive cases in two facilities in New York as well as in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahomaand Texas.

Earlier this week, Amazon told NPR that it was working with health authorities and medical experts to decide how to handle building closures for deep cleaning. This was said to include assessments of where the employee was in the building, for how long and how long ago, among other things.

The company has also highlighted its stepped-up "frequency and intensity of cleaning" and other changes meant to keep workers at a distance, like getting rid of stand-up meetings and staggering shift and break times.

Still, workers across the U.S. have been calling for Amazon to do more to protect staff who are being asked to keep turning up to work while much of the country is asked to isolate.

Amazon has promised two weeks of paid leave for workers who test positive for COVID-19 or who are asked by health or corporate officials to quarantine at home. However, Amazon's employees — speaking on social media and in press conferences organized by worker groups — say they feel exposed every time they go to work. And they say they can't afford to take unpaid leave but also struggle to receive pay without official testing results, which are hard to access across the country.

Hundreds of Amazon workers have signed a petitioncalling on the company to expand access to paid leave to staff who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, regardless of a diagnosis, among other things. A group of 15 attorneys general on Wednesday called on Amazon to "adopt a more generous paid leave policy."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote last weekthat the company has ordered "millions of face masks" for employees and contractors, but "very few of those orders have been filled."

"This isn't business as usual, and it's a time of great stress and uncertainty," wrote Bezos, who's the world's richest person. "It's also a moment in time when the work we're doing is its most critical. "

Amazon is planningto hire 100,000 new temporary warehouse and delivery workers in an attempt to keep up with the surging demand from Americans turning to online shopping during the coronavirus quarantines.

The company has also said it would temporarily raise its pay through April, by $2 per hour in the U.S. and similar amounts in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
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