What It Looks Like Inside an Amazon Warehouse Now

What It Looks Like Inside an Amazon Warehouse Now


What It Looks Like Inside an Amazon Warehouse Now

What It Looks Like Inside an Amazon Warehouse Now

KENT, Wash. — After months of being embattled over its response to the coronavirus, Amazon is working to convince the public that its workplaces — specifically, the warehouses where it stores everything from toys to hand sanitizer — are safe during the pandemic.

The giant internet retailer has started running television ads that show that its warehouse and delivery employees have masks and other protective gear. It has pushed out segments to local news stations touting its safety improvements. It has asked journalists to visit its warehouses to see for themselves.

Amazon is spreading its safety message after a period that Jeff Bezos, the company’s chief executive, has called “the hardest time we’ve ever faced.” As the coronavirus swept through the United States, Amazon struggled to balance a surge of orders with the health concerns of the one million workers and contractors at its warehouses and delivery operations.

In hundreds of its facilities, workers became ill with Covid-19, and many blamed the company. At the height of its crisis, one Amazon executive said he had quit over the firings of workers who raised questions about workplace safety during the pandemic.

While Amazon has rolled out safety changes, many workers and officials said the measures were unevenly deployed and came too late.

But in recent weeks, workers said, some conditions inside the warehouses have improved. And the company, which was in emergency response mode in March and April, has resumed a more regular rhythm of business.

Amazon recently invited reporters into a fulfillment center in Kent, Wash., 20 miles south of Seattle, where the company is based. The New York Times agreed to tour the facility to see the changes that Amazon and many workers around the country had described.

The facility, which opened in 2016, stretches across more than one million square feet. The squat, largely windowless structure sits in an industrial park surrounded by parking lots. Inside, a vast web of conveyor belts crisscrosses the building, moving between areas where workers stow products into robotic shelves and areas where the workers pick items up from the shelves. There are also workstations where people package the items for shipping.

On a typical shift, 600 to 800 employees work there. Much of the building naturally has little human interaction because the work areas are spaced far apart.

But some high-traffic areas have changed. The human resources desk has put up walls of plexiglass so people can still talk face to face, with a layer of separation. There is tape throughout the warehouse marking out six-foot increments for social distancing. Sanitizer stations are common; before they were rare.

The biggest transformation is at the building’s entryway, a wide lobby area with tall turnstiles. Workers would previously pass through the turnstiles and start their shift. Now when they arrive, they are channeled past thermal cameras, manned by colleagues, to take their temperatures. At a small stand enclosed in plexiglass, a worker stands with a stack of masks, which are handed out using long tongs.

After workers pass through the temperature checks, they see a glass-walled room that previously was used for training. The room is part of an Amazon pilot program to test warehouse employees for Covid-19, part of the $4 billion that the company has said it plans to spend in the next few months to respond to the virus.

When workers enter the makeshift testing center, they scan their company badge. They are handed, via forceps, a test kit for the virus. The small plastic bag, which is marked with a biohazard symbol, contains a swab and test-tube-like container. Workers can go to one of several areas with tables to follow instructions on how to administer the test. Then they seal their test kit and place it in a green bin.

An employee of Concentra, a company that provides workplace health care, is on hand to give the medical oversight needed for self-administered tests.

Amazon said more than 1,000 of the more than 3,000 workers at the facility had been tested for the coronavirus.

  • Updated June 5, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Workers still come and go. They grab lunch in the break room and have a smoke outside. Those are signs that business is getting back to normal.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Amazon focused on shipping critical products, like hand sanitizer and diapers. But the Kent warehouse also packed products to meet shoppers’ other whims — outdoor lights, blenders, car-washing supplies and more.

Amazon has hired 175,000 temporary workers — including about 1,000 at this warehouse alone — to stand in for employees who stayed home during the early phase of the pandemic and to help meet demand that rivaled its peak holiday season. Now the majority of those workers have been given permanent roles.

Emilie Deschamps, a worker whom Amazon authorized to talk publicly, joined the warehouse in October. She said the biggest change hadn’t been physical but, rather, how Amazon had adjusted break times to stagger them and reduce congestion. The company also gave people extra time to wash their hands, she said.

“Honestly, it’s been OK so far,” Ms. Deschamps said.

Even with work stations spaced far apart, employees pass closely by each other at times, just as you might see at a grocery store or on a sidewalk.


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