In early February, infectious disease expert Ian Lipkin got a call from Amazon. The Columbia University virologist, who was an adviser on the 2011 outbreak thriller Contagion, was in China to investigate the newly emerging coronavirus.
Amazon asked Lipkin if he could help the tech company reduce the risk of infection to their workers and customers. The first U.S. case of Covid-19 had just been detected in Seattle, where Amazon’s headquarters is located, at the end of January.
“I talked with them about ways in which they could contribute to the science around preventing, treating, and recognizing Covid,” Lipkin tells OneZero. Before then, he never had any contact with Amazon, except as an occasional customer. To him, the company’s interest in the science of the coronavirus made perfect sense. “Obviously, they want to do everything they can to promote public health and to ensure the safety of their employees, their products, and their customers,” he says.
In response to the pandemic, the tech behemoth is funding research into a potential Covid-19 treatment, developing its own testing capabilities, and backing a study on immunity. The results of those efforts could keep workers from getting sick, and in doing so, boost Amazon’s productivity by keeping workers healthy and on the job. The company’s foray into scientific research could eventually extend to consumers, too. Amazon has already made moves into the health care space, and its efforts during the pandemic could allow it to gain an even bigger toehold in the $3.6 trillion industry.
While these scientific endeavors could ultimately be good for Amazon’s bottom line, they haven’t seemed to ease the worries of the company’s frontline employees, who protested on May 1 with other tech workers for better safety protections, working conditions, and pay.
In recent weeks, Amazon has come under increasing pressure from state attorneys general and its own workers to release the total number of its employees infected with Covid-19. So far, eight warehouse workers have died of the disease, according to the company. Amazon’s…