State health officials said Wednesday that the number of coronavirus cases at Amazon’s warehouses around the Twin Cities subsided this month after surging in late April and May.
“There may have been transmission [through the workplace] early on, but now there’s no evidence there’s ongoing transmission,” said Joni Scheftel, co-lead for the Minnesota Department of Health’s group that looks into clusters of coronavirus cases in workplaces.
“We’ll keep an eye on it and continue to have regular communications with them to see how it’s going,” she added.
The Star Tribune reported earlier this week that department data showed Amazon’s fulfillment center in Shakopee has had at least 88 workers test positive for the new coronavirus since it began to spread locally earlier this year. Another 99 Amazon workers in Minnesota have also tested positive for the illness.
The data disclosure led a group of Amazon workers Wednesday to ask the state to shut down the Shakopee warehouse for two weeks for a deep cleaning. They also called on Amazon to be more transparent about the number of cases in its facility. Amazon sends alerts to workers when new cases are revealed, but it does not say how many.
Responding to media requests, state health officials subsequently provided more elaboration on their monitoring of Amazon’s local work sites. Scheftel said its Shakopee warehouse, where about 1,000 people work, ranks about 13th among Minnesota workplaces with the highest number of cases.
She visited the Amazon warehouse on June 11. She noted that it’s fairly new with lots of space for workers to spread out. Most employees have their own workstation where they can be 6 feet apart from others, and there are barriers in place where workers come closer together, she said.
“They’re doing all of the big things right,” she said. “The things I saw were relatively minor compared to what I’ve seen in facilities with older workspaces.”
Her suggestions included putting hand sanitizer on both sides of turnstiles instead of just on one side and having the workers who are taking people’s temperatures wear face shields.
Jamal Omer, one of the Amazon workers involved in the group seeking more state intervention, said he tested positive for the coronavirus last month. His wife and mother-in-law ended up getting it too.
“When I came home from work, I couldn’t get up from the bed,” he said, adding that he had complained to Amazon managers earlier that he didn’t feel safe at work.
Amazon has said it strongly believes that the virus is not spreading through its facilities because of all the safety measures it’s put into place.
“We utilize a variety of data to closely monitor the safety of our buildings and there is strong evidence that our employees are not proliferating the virus at work,” Jen Crowcroft, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“What we see generally is that the overall rate of infection and increase or decrease of total case is highly correlated to the overall community rate of infection.”
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113