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Amazon Closes Warehouse As Coronavirus Cases At Its Facilities Mount

Amazon has closed a warehouse in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, after three workers at the facility tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The retail giant had initially planned to close it for 48 hours for cleaning, but later said it would be closed until April 1.

Amazon Warehouse

The outbreak at the facility, which is near Louisville, isn't the only example of confirmed coronavirus infection at an Amazon facility. The virus has been detected in workers at at least 10 properties nationwide as of Wednesday, the Washington Post reports, including ones in New York, California, Texas and Michigan. Workers in Amazon warehouses in Spain and Italy have also tested positive.

Until now, the retailer has been closing facilities temporarily for cleaning in response to confirmed cases, and workers who were in contact with infected co-workers have been quarantined. 

The spread of the disease comes at a time when customers are ordering more online, and Amazon is looking to hire 100,000 more workers to respond to the surge in demand for online goods.

Existing workers are also demanding more action by the company to better protect them, with more than 1,500 workers signing a petition articulating a number of demands, including facility shutdowns, paid sick leave and hazard pay.

"We’ve implemented a series of preventative health measures for employees and contractors at our sites around the world — everything from increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning to adjusting our practices in fulfillment centers to ensure the recommended social distancing guidelines," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a recent post on the company's website.

The statement was posted not long after four U.S. senators — Cory Booker, Bob Menendez, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown — took Bezos to task in a letter questioning the company's policies, including those that seemingly interfere with efforts to slow the spread of the virus. 

"While Amazon has issued guidance to its warehouse employees to frequently wash their hands, they are not providing enough time for them to do so — for example, it is our understanding that if a warehouse employee coughs or sneezes, they can either take the time to wash their hands and risk being written up for falling short of their shipping expectations, or meet their shipping expectations and put themselves and their colleagues at risk," the letter said.

The Kentucky facility handles returns for the retailer, especially apparel. The move to close it indefinitely, which is a first in response to the pandemic for Amazon, came after workers there protested that returning to work wasn't worth the risk, Bloomberg reports.

Amazon robo-called employees on Wednesday, informing them of the shutdown, four workers told Bloomberg. The retailer also told workers that they would be paid during the closure.

UPDATE, MARCH 30, 11:15 A.M. ET: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Amazon has stated that its Shepherdsville, Kentucky, facility will be closed until April 1.