Amazon is teaming up with a new research effort in Seattle's King County — one region of Washington most impacted by the coronavirus — to pick up and deliver tests for COVID-19.
The research effort, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is called the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, or SCAN. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide technical guidance to the project. Funding is provided by Gates Ventures, the private office of Bill Gates. The SCAN researchers hope to learn how the infection is spreading among different demographic groups, which could provide a window into how the virus is likely to progress. Testing has still been limited in the U.S., and in many areas is still highly restricted.
Amazon Care, the arm of Amazon providing medical care to employees, is helping with the delivery and logistics. It will deliver tests to people who either feel sick or are asymptomatic. Amazon Care will pick them up for analysis. If the coronavirus is detected in swabs, the participant will be contacted by a health-care worker.
The involvement is limited to Amazon Care, and not Amazon's broader network, an Amazon Care spokesperson explained. All the couriers involved have been trained in handling medical material, and they will distribute the self-swab kits to the homes of those who have requested them.
CNBC first reported Amazon's involvement in the effort, as the talks have been ongoing for weeks.
"Responding to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 crisis must be a community effort and requires support from both the private and public sectors," Amazon Care director Kristen Helton told CNBC in an emailed statement. "We are grateful to be surrounded by a strong community of public health, global health and academic leaders and are eager to leverage Amazon Care's infrastructure and logistics capabilities to support this local effort."
The project is based on the work of the Seattle Flu Study, which used self-administered tests to track the spread of the influenza virus. Research partners behind the effort, which is supported by local health officials, include Brotman Baty Institute, University of Washington Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children's Hospital.
In Washington, 95 people have died and 2,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. About half of those cases have been located in King County.