Health officials in south-eastern Wisconsin have warned Amazon that if they don’t fully cooperate with state testing and tracing efforts, its Kenosha campus located 40 miles south of Milwaukee could be shut down. The announcement comes as at least 20 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus at two facilities.
“To date, the Kenosha County Division of Health has struggled to receive coordinated cooperation from Amazon regarding the handling of Covid-19 cases,” Jen Freiheit, a health officer with Kenosha County, told the Kenosha News on Thursday.
While the tech giant acknowledged 20 confirmed cases, an independent analysis of employee communications by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that at least 32 workers at the Amazon H1 and H5 facilities have contracted the virus in the past two months.
The Kenosha campus is where the tech giant’s first employee infection was confirmed on 16 March. Amazon has not released the number of positive cases at its facilities nationwide, however. Officials with the Kenosha county health department say that Amazon is not fully cooperating with public health workers trying to track the spread.
“We’re at the point now that since we’re not getting [cooperation], we’re going to look into what other measures we can take for Amazon, because we are not getting as far with compliance as we would like,” Freiheit told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
A Guardian analysis of a public Facebook group found employees at both facilities provided personal updates on their test results to alert colleagues, and often vented about obstacles to getting health information from Amazon, including updates on safety precautions the company announced it would implement.
“Amazon is not forthcoming,” one user wrote. “Why would they not want to help isolate the cases? [They] also won’t let health [department] in the buildings. What do they have to hide”?
Earlier this month workers organized protests and walkouts after Amazon ended its unlimited unpaid time off policy for workers at the end of April. The CEO, Jeff Bezos, and other company executives have come under fire for what critics have called attempts to smear and silence employees who spoken out.
At least five workers have claimed to have been fired by the company in retaliation for drawing attention to safety conditions at their former facilities, including two in Manhattan, one in Staten Island, a worker in Indiana and one in Oregon.
Employees have also come to Amazon’s defense, however, including in the Facebook group. Under discussions about the tech giant’s cooperation with county health officials, some noted that when attempting initial contact, the health department contacted the wrong person, and it was, in fact, Amazon’s representatives who made the proper contact.
“The health department will be coming to conduct an inspection and administer the Covid-19 tests for all employees,” a worker contended. “No one was hiding anything, it was just a matter of getting the communication started.”
Amazon has announced that testing for the coronavirus will be made available to campus employees. In a statement to the Kenosha News, an Amazon spokeswoman, Jen Crowcroft, confirmed the company invites county health officials “to see the investments” made in safety, “including enhanced daily cleaning, temperature checks, mandatory masks, and social distancing measures”.
“In addition, we’ve started our first Covid-19 testing pilot at a handful of sites, and plan to make this available to employees at [two Kenosha facilities] soon,” she said.
The Guardian has contacted Amazon for comment.