Watch CBS News

Amazon employees fear COVID-19 exposure: "I was panicking"

Being an essential worker amid virus pandemic
Essential workers risk coronavirus exposure to serve their communities 03:02

At least 10 Amazon warehouse employees across the country have contracted the coronavirus, according to employee and media reports. However, they are part of a select group of professions whose workers continue to serve their communities, often risking their own health to assist people self-isolating. 

"We have to make sure, you know, where we're working at is safe," Amazon associate Sahro Sharif told CBS News' Adriana Diaz. Sharif, who works at the Shakopee fulfillment center in Minnesota, is part of a community group called The Atwood Center. The group is one of 50 others working under an umbrella coalition called Athena that aims to enhance labor protections for Amazon employees. Right now that means assuring employee safety as the coronavirus pandemic has many sequestered to their homes for fear of infection. 

"I was scared, I was panicking," she said about the news of infections among warehouse workers. "When it comes to Amazon, there's so much more they could do for their employees."

According to the Seattle Times, Amazon told some of its delivery drivers they must maintain a six-foot distance when picking up packages, and told its warehouse workers they must stay at least three feet apart from each other. An Amazon spokesperson said Friday that it has since changed its guidelines, advising all employees to maintain a six-foot distance from each other.

Sharif said Amazon shut down her facility for a day of cleaning, but then it returned to business as usual.

"They have thousands of thousands of employees. So from one shift, another shift comes in," she described. 

Moreover, Amazon Senior Vice President Jay Carney told CBS News last week that the company is hiring even more workers to deal with increased demand as many brick-and-mortar stores shut down amid the pandemic. Carney also said they would be adding an "extra two weeks of paid time off for anyone who's diagnosed with COVID." 

The retail giant said it has also taken further steps to help facilitate social distancing and reducing the virus' spread among its employees, like staggering shift times, pausing public guests to Amazon buildings and requiring employees to sanitize their work stations at the start and end of each shift.

Aside from the online retail and delivery industry, workers whose jobs involve entering people's homes also worry for their own safety.

William Mattox, an electrician whose day-to-day duties involving making necessary repairs in people's homes, has taken precautions for his own health to continue helping people. 

"We're wearing latex gloves. We're wearing face masks. We are also wearing shoe covers, which is part of our service," he said. 

Dallas plumber Jeff Baer said he even saw an increase in demand during the pandemic. With more calls while people are self-isolating, Baer said his family worries for his safety.

"We do the precautionary things we need to as I get home," he said. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.