Amazon closes New Jersey warehouse after workers test positive for coronavirus

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Amazon has closed a warehouse in northern New Jersey until Dec. 26 after it saw an uptick in asymptomatic coronavirus cases.

Employees at the Robbinsville Township, New Jersey, facility, known as PNE5, were informed Saturday that the site would temporarily close, according to a notice obtained by CNBC.

Amazon employees will be paid for any shifts that they’ll miss while the facility is shuttered, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told CNBC in a statement.

“Through our in-house COVID-19 testing program, we detected an increase in the number of asymptomatic positive cases at our PNE5 facility in northern New Jersey and have proactively closed the site until December 26th out of an abundance of caution,” Levandowski said. “This is exactly why we built the program — to identify asymptomatic cases and ensure that we can take swift action to prevent spread.”

Levandowski didn’t immediately respond to questions about the total number of cases at PNE5 or whether the building will undergo additional cleaning while it’s closed.

Amazon in October disclosed that nearly 20,000 front-line employees contracted Covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19. At the time, the company said the rate of infection among employees was 42% lower than expected, when compared with the general population rate in the U.S.

Amazon has previously shuttered other facilities for brief stretches of time after it logged new coronavirus cases. In March, Amazon temporarily closed a delivery station in Queens, New York after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus. That month, it also closed a facility in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, after several workers there tested positive.

Most of Amazon’s warehouses have remained open during the pandemic, as they were deemed essential facilities, alongside grocery stores, pharmacies and banks, among other businesses.

The company has previously said it’s gone to “great lengths” to keep facilities clean and make sure employees are following necessary safety precautions, such as wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, practicing social distancing and other measures. Amazon has also launched testing sites at a significant portion of its warehouses and in October said it was conducting thousands of tests a day.

Still, warehouse and delivery workers across the U.S. have called on Amazon to do more to protect front-line employees, including reinstating temporary pay increases and providing paid sick leave.

Amazon is among several companies vying for their workers to get priority access to the coronavirus vaccine. Last week, Dave Clark, who runs Amazon’s retail operations, wrote to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel asking that warehouse employees, Whole Foods workers and data center employees “receive the Covid-19 vaccine at the earliest appropriate time.”

On Sunday, the CDC panel voted that people 75 and older and front-line essential workers should be next in line for the coronavirus vaccine. Firefighters, police officers, teachers, grocery workers, public transit and postal workers are among the essential workers included in the tier, known as phase 1b. Other essential workers are expected to be included in the third wave of recipients.

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