Amazon working to move packages, not coronavirus

Posted October 8, 2020 7:05 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2020 9:56 a.m. EDT

— The coronavirus pandemic has more people buying what they need online and having it shipped to their homes. That has created both opportunities and challenges for retail giant Amazon.

“We have had to re-evaluate how we do something,” Amazon area manager Craig Reed said Thursday.

Nearly 300 people work at a new delivery facility in Durham, sorting up to 4,000 packages a day. They are in near constant motion, making virus-related safety tricky.

Masks are required inside the building, everyone must pass a temperature check at the door and monitors show when workers are closer than 6 feet from one another.

"It has been difficult, but Amazon is very much committed to safety," Reed said.

The company is reportedly spending billions of dollars on virus safety measures.

From March to Sept. 19, officials said, 19,816 employees at Amazon and its Whole Foods supermarket subsidiary tested positive or were presumed positive for coronavirus, out of the company's 1.37 million U.S. workers. According to company figures, there have been more than 130 cases among the 12,500 Amazon workers in North Carolina, an infection rate officials say is below the rate in the general public.

"If it is something that is going to take you twice as long to do it with one versus two people, it’s got to take twice as long," Reed said. "Safety is that important that we have to prioritize that."

Amazon worker Nate Baptist has a compromised immune system, putting him at higher risk from the virus. But he said he has confidence in the company's safety protocols.

"I was not too worried about bringing the virus home or catching it myself and be placed in the precarious situation," he said.

Baptist, who lost his job at a local gym when it closed early in the pandemic, started working at the Durham delivery center recently. He said managers are strict about keeping workers from clustering together as they move about.

"We are timed to do a lot of our tasks here, and sometimes that gets delayed because you can only have one person in a particular spot at a time," he said. "So, we are having to wait for someone to finish what they are doing before we can go in and do what we need to do.

"We can make that up and get that done later in the afternoon. What we can’t sacrifice is the quality of work," he added.

A big test for the safety measures comes next week, when the volume of packages moving through the Durham facility could double during Amazon's Oct. 13-14 Prime Day sale event. Shortly after that comes the holiday rush.

“Working with Amazon could be a long-term thing for me," Baptist said.

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