Amazon memo reveals Covid-19 was more prevalent in Minnesota warehouse than surrounding areas

Key Points
  • Coronavirus infection rates at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota were far higher than the surrounding community, according to an internal memo obtained by CNBC.
  • The memo contradicts Amazon's previous messaging about infection rates. Top executives including Dave Clark, senior vice president of global operations, have said infection rates at warehouses match or are lower than the cities they're in. 
  • Amazon has repeatedly declined to disclose how many of its workers have been infected by Covid-19.

In this article

A picture taken on June 9, 2016 shows Amazon warehouse in Paris, part of the new service 'Prime Now'.
Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

An Amazon warehouse in Minnesota exceeded community infection rates for the coronavirus, according to an internal memo, contradicting the company's public statements that Covid-19 cases at its facilities were in line with or better than rates in nearby areas. 

At least 45 workers at Amazon's Shakopee facility, known as MSP1, have fallen sick with the coronavirus, resulting in a rate of infection of 1.7%, according to the memo circulated at the facility, which was viewed by CNBC and first reported by Bloomberg. The memo, which was issued mid-May, shows that infections were nearly five times the rate of surrounding counties and far higher than the rate of 0.1% in Scott County, where MSP1 is located. 

The data calls into question Amazon's previous messaging around coronavirus cases at its facilities. Amazon employees, members of the media and lawmakers have repeatedly urged it to disclose the total number of deaths and infections at warehouses, but so far, the company has declined, arguing the number isn't useful. 

Amazon's top spokesperson, Jay Carney, and Dave Clark, Amazon's senior vice president of global operations, have been similarly reluctant to share the data. The company has previously rebuffed accusations that its warehouses have spread the virus, saying the "overall rate of infection and increase or decrease of total cases is highly correlated to the overall community rate of infection."

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said the company believes strongly that employees are not spreading the virus at work, "given the robust safety measures we've put into place." Cheeseman added that the coronavirus tracking measures detailed in the memo are "one of many tools" that Amazon uses to help it determine "the full picture in our buildings related to Covid-19."

"We have redeployed a large number of our data scientists, technologists, and operations employees to focus on COVID-19 and ensure the safety of our workforce, including thousands of individuals on our health and safety teams," Cheeseman said. "In addition to a deep dive by a site, other tools include social distancing audits and having an epidemiologist review available data to ensure our safety measures are effectively protecting workers from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace."

Amazon continues to report new coronavirus cases at its facilities nationwide, including at MSP1, which as of Tuesday, has reported 92 cases total, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. A total of 198 coronavirus cases have been confirmed among Amazon workers throughout Minnesota, the agency said. Outbreaks have been reported at three other facilities in Minnesota.

Detailed tracking efforts

The memo also provides an in-depth look at how Amazon is tracking coronavirus cases at the site level. Cases at MSP1 appeared to decline as testing was more available in surrounding communities, according to the memo.

Since the pandemic erupted, Amazon hasn't provided many details on its contact tracing efforts, which has drawn criticism from warehouse workers eager for more information about cases.

The memo gives a taste of the types of information Amazon has collected from workers who tested positive at facilities. It breaks down which shifts and functions inside the facility reported higher cases, as well as the effectiveness of social distancing efforts.

The report also analyzes possible factors for transmission at a granular level, noting that almost half of reported cases were from individuals who "live in apartments where it is difficult to maintain social distancing."

It's unclear if Amazon has compiled similarly detailed reports at other facilities across the country. Cheeseman declined to comment on whether other reports exist elsewhere.   

What it's like inside an Amazon warehouse during the Covid-19 pandemic
What it's like inside an Amazon warehouse during the Covid-19 pandemic