Trending: Amazon employee at Seattle-area warehouse tests positive for COVID-19
Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in June 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he has turned all of his attention to the impact of COVID-19, the tech giant’s response to the spread of the disease, and its role in finding solutions.

“My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role,” Bezos wrote in an internal memo to employees Saturday afternoon, made public by the company. “I want you to know Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won’t stop looking for new opportunities to help.”

Bezos added, “There is no instruction manual for how to feel at a time like this, and I know this causes stress for everyone. My list of worries right now — like yours I’m sure — is long: from my own children, parents, family, friends, to the safety of you, my colleagues, to those who are already very sick, and to the real harm that will be caused by the economic fallout across our communities.”

Under different circumstances, Bezos devoting all of his time and attention to a single subject would be a remarkable declaration. Apart from his day job building and running one of the world’s most influential companies, items on the billionaire’s to-do list include colonizing the moon.

“Across the world, people are feeling the economic effects of this crisis, and I’m sad to tell you I predict things are going to get worse before they get better,” Bezos wrote.

Amazon’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak is under a microscope. Thousands of consumers are turning to Amazon.com for groceries and other essentials amid widespread orders to stay home as much as possible. The surge in demand is putting pressure on the company, which said it will hire an additional 100,000 warehouse workers to keep up.

“We hope people who’ve been laid off will come work with us until they’re able to go back to the jobs they had,” Bezos wrote.

Meanwhile, politicians and activists are scrutinizing the treatment of warehouse employees, as several of those workers have tested positive for the virus around the world.

Four legislators sent a letter to  Bezos on Friday outlining their concern for the safety of employees who help pack and ship customer orders. The letter cited news reports in which Amazon employees said warehouses don’t have adequate sanitation supplies or social distancing practices. Amazon called the claims in the letter “simply unfounded,” detailing increased safety measures and other steps it’s taking to protect its workers.

Amazon has expanded its paid time off policy or employees who contract COVID-19 and is providing cash grants equal to about two weeks pay to workers who aren’t eligible for PTO. It has also boosted hourly pay and overtime pay for employees in its fulfillment network. Earlier this month, Amazon said it will donate $25 million to help its network of independent delivery drivers, Amazon Flex workers, and seasonal employees deal with disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The company is also temporarily covering rent for companies that lease space in its buildings and providing grants to small businesses in its Seattle neighborhood.

Continue reading for Bezos’ email to employees in full:

Dear Amazonians,

This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty. It’s also a moment in time when the work we’re doing is its most critical.

We’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering essential items like household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies. We’re providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable. People are depending on us.

I’m not alone in being grateful for the work you are doing. I’ve received hundreds of emails from customers and seen posts on social media thanking you all. Your efforts are being noticed at the highest levels of government, and President Trump earlier this week thanked this team profusely.

Across the world, people are feeling the economic effects of this crisis, and I’m sad to tell you I predict things are going to get worse before they get better. We’re hiring for 100,000 new roles and raising wages for our hourly workers who are fulfilling orders and delivering to customers during this period of stress and turmoil. At the same time, other businesses like restaurants and bars are being forced to shut their doors. We hope people who’ve been laid off will come work with us until they’re able to go back to the jobs they had.

Much of the essential work we do cannot be done from home. 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. We are meeting every day, working to identify additional ways to improve on these measures.

We’ve placed purchase orders for millions of face masks we want to give to our employees and contractors who cannot work from home, but very few of those orders have been filled. Masks remain in short supply globally and are at this point being directed by governments to the highest-need facilities like hospitals and clinics. It’s easy to understand why the incredible medical providers serving our communities need to be first in line. When our turn for masks comes, our first priority will be getting them in the hands of our employees and partners working to get essential products to people.

My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role. I want you to know Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won’t stop looking for new opportunities to help.

There is no instruction manual for how to feel at a time like this, and I know this causes stress for everyone. My list of worries right now — like yours I’m sure — is long: from my own children, parents, family, friends, to the safety of you, my colleagues, to those who are already very sick, and to the real harm that will be caused by the economic fallout across our communities.

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. I know that we’re going to get through this, together.

Jeff

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