An employee at one of mega-online retailer Amazon’s West Columbia, South Carolina fulfillment centers has tested positive for the 2019-2020 coronavirus, sources at the facility told this news outlet. According to our sources, the company notified employees of the confirmed positive case via voicemails and text messages on Wednesday afternoon.
“We are supporting the individual who is recovering,” Amazon spokeswoman Alyssa Bronikowski told us, confirming the reports we received.
According its message to employees, Amazon announced that it had “learned of a confirmed case of (coronavirus)” at its largest West Columbia fulfillment facility – dubbed “CAE1.”
“The affected individual was last on site on (March 18, 2020), and consistent with our daily processes, the site has been undergoing multiple enhanced cleanings during this time,” the message noted.
It added that Amazon was following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and informing “any co-workers who may have been in close contact with the individual.”
“We understand the risk of transmission for employees who were not in close contact with the individual to be low,” the message stated.
This news outlet received a tip last Friday (March 24, 2020) that an Amazon worker had tested positive for the virus. Our sources referenced the specific facility where the employee worked and the specific time frame the company cited in the message to employees.
Amazon denied the report the following Monday (March 27, 2020) via email, however.
“We do not have any confirmed cases of COVID19 at any of our West Columbia, SC facilities, nor at any of our operations facilities across the state,” Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty wrote in a message to our founding editor.
In fairness to Amazon, the case may not have been confirmed at the time given the testing backlog South Carolina has experienced.
Still, it seems unlikely the company didn’t know something was up …
What happens now for employees at the facility?
“We understand that you may be nervous about coming in to work,” the message they received noted. “Associates will not be penalized for any absences. And if you feel sick, you should stay home.”
In addition to concerns about the health and safety of its other workers, Amazon could have a potential public safety issue on its hands.
According to our sources, the male employee in question is a “picker” – handling up to 800 to 1,000 items each shift. We wonder: How many parcels were handled by this particular employee? Where were they sent? And how many people may have been exposed to the virus as result?
As we reported last fall, Amazon – which received massive taxpayer incentives to locate its fulfillment facilities in West Columbia – is in the midst of a contentious legal battle with the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR) over hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax receipts.
This news outlet first addressed this fight in December 2017 – arguing Amazon owed the tax and should pay it.
“We’ve consistently argued that South Carolina’s sales tax is too high, but Amazon agreed to pay it – and it is currently in violation of that agreement to the tune of tens of millions of dollars (at least),” we wrote at the time. “Bigger picture? South Carolina needs to pursue sales tax reform that lowers the overall burden for consumers while providing fairness for all retailers – large and small, online and brick-and-mortar.”
As of this writing, there are 1,293 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Palmetto State – per severely limited data released by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). Twenty-six (26) Carolinians have died as result to exposure from the virus.
It is not immediately clear whether the infected Amazon employee is included in that count, nor is there any update on his condition.
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