• An Amazon employee told Business Insider that they saw testing stations being set up at a warehouse in Fresno, California.
  • In a statement, the company confirmed that it has begun a “small-scale pilot,” but declined to say where or if COVID-19 testing would be done or if it would be mandatory.
  • Dr. Ashish Jha, direct of the Harvard Global Health Institute, previously told Business Insider he was skeptical that in-house testing was a good idea, saying it could put Amazon in competition with governments for testing resources.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon has begun an in-house, pilot coronavirus testing program for its employees, the company confirmed in a statement on Thursday. 

The online retailer would not say where it is conducting the pilot, but Business Insider first became aware of the initiative following a tip from an employee at an Amazon fulfillment center in Fresno, California.

That employee, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they noticed workers setting up testing stations this week within the warehouse itself. They claimed all employees will be required to submit to testing every two weeks or “risk termination.”

Amazon declined to confirm any details other than the fact that it has “started our first small-scale pilot,” stating that it does not “know exactly yet how it’s going to shape up, but we continue to believe it’s worth trying.” This is the first known pilot of that previously announced program. The company is also planning on using an app to help with social distancing.

“I don’t have additional info to share beyond the statement,” Rena Lunak, a company spokesperson, told Business Insider.

Amazon first announced in an April 9 blog post that it was developing an in-house laboratory for COVID-19, saying it hoped “to start testing small numbers of our front line employees soon.”

At the time, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Business Insider that he understood Amazon’s reasons for wanting to test its employees. 

While the company has introduced a number of measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, from encouraging social distancing to conducting temperature checks at the start of shifts, some facilities have nonetheless reported dozens of COVID-19 cases — spurring some employees to walk off the job. A number of workers have told Business Insider that social distancing is more an ideal than a reality in such a fast-paced environment.

But by pursuing its own testing solution, Dr. Jha argued, Amazon is effectively competing with governments for finite testing resources.

“I’m also not sure it’s super useful for every private company to build a testing infrastructure for their own employees,” Jha said. “That raises a whole set of different issues, like sick people not working at Amazon can’t get tested, but healthy people working at Amazon can get tested.”

News of the pilot program also comes as Amazon faces increasing criticism over its decision to end its policy of unlimited unpaid time off. The top public health official in Edison, New Jersey — where an Amazon warehouse has seen dozens of workers contract the coronavirus — told Business Insider that move, which he hoped would be reversed, was causing fear among employees who see it as a way to compel an impossible choice: their health or, by entering a facility that has been the scene of contagion, their ability to earn a living.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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