News this week that Amazon will this summer begin testing its workers for the coronavirus strain Covid-19 even in a pilot program is a rare move among U.S. employers, health benefits consultancy data shows.
Amazon says it has for weeks been looking at ways to test workers while “distributing masks to employees, using disinfectant spray and conducting employee temperature checks” at operations sites and grocery stores across the country. And CNBC was the first to report that the online retail giant soon plans “to test its fulfillment center workers for coronavirus after several outbreaks at its warehouses.”
“A next step might be regular testing of our employees, and we’ve started our first small-scale pilot,” Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said Wednesday evening. “We don’t know exactly yet how it’s going to shape up, but we continue to believe it’s worth trying.”
What Amazon is piloting is more than most other employers are planning even as the country prepares to re-open for business amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, the human resources consultancy Mercer said just 4% of those responding to a “return to the workplace” questionnaire say they are planning to conduct serology screening for antibodies to the Coronavirus strain COVID-19. And just 3% of employers say they plan to “screen for the presence of the virus.”
The Mercer survey is considered a snapshot into the thinking of employers as they grapple with myriad workplace issues as “shelter in place” orders end this month in several states and employers weigh whether to allow workers to return to their job sites.
The CNBC report said Amazon’s goal “is to test the bulk of the company’s warehouse workers every two weeks,” the story said. “Workers would test themselves with nasal swabs, using a video for guidance, with a clinical professional supervising.”
Any testing effort done by employers would be costly, which is why some analysts say companies are unwilling to begin testing their workers or are slow to implement such diagnostic testing strategies.
The cost of swabbing and testing all Americans for the coronavirus strain Covid-19 plus the price tag for testing them for virus antibodies could be as much as $44 billion a year, a new analysis released Wednesday said.
“Diagnostic testing would cost between $6 billion and $25 billion a year, and antibody testing would cost between $5 billion and $19 billion a year,” the report from the Wakely Consulting Group, funded by the health insurance lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), says. “These estimates include both the cost of the tests, as well as affiliated health care services (e.g., provider visit, urgent care visit) for administering the tests.”