Amazon is rolling out new measures to protect its employees from the coronavirus outbreak. By early next week, the company will offer face masks and temperature checks for staff in all of its U.S. and European warehouses and Whole Foods stores, and it will install artificial intelligence software to its camera systems to monitor whether workers congregate too closely.
The move follows a growing wave of backlash against the company, which has been criticized for failing to adequately protect workers from COVID-19. Amazon employs hundreds of thousands of workers on the front lines of the global pandemic, who run deliveries for warehouses, groceries, and homes and put themselves in physical proximity with countless people in the process.
The online retailer, which is currently experiencing demand levels through the roof and a shortage of workers on the ground, has resisted closing facilities where employees have tested positive for coronavirus. Workers argue that Amazon not only failed to notify them of the positive cases but also failed to perform thorough deep-cleans of the affected facilities, and that work conditions including meetings where staffers must stand shoulder to shoulder make it impossible to maintain social distancing.
On Monday, staff members at a Staten Island shipping center, one of 19 facilities with confirmed cases of coronavirus, walked off the job in a protest that led to the firing of one of its organizers, which drew further controversy to the company.
Amazon also fielded pressure from Senators Cory Booker, Robert Menendez, Bernie Sanders, and Sherrod Brown, who wrote a joint letter in March inquiring about the company’s safety standards.
Dave Clark, an operations executive at Amazon, wrote in a blog post Thursday that Amazon will test the temperature of hundreds of thousands of employees daily and will send home workers registering more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, where they will be required to stay until they pass three days without a fever. According to Reuters, Amazon is using no-contact forehead thermometers, and temperature scans have already begun at locations near Seattle and in New York.
The company said it placed an order for millions of surgical masks “weeks ago,” which it expects to receive and distribute to workers within days. It also ordered N95 masks, which will be donated to healthcare and government organizations.
In his blog post, Clark added that Amazon is implementing a new camera system that will “capture opportunities to improve social distancing in our buildings.”