• The US economy needs to significantly scale up its ability to test a much bigger chunk of the American population in order to reopen and start getting back to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • That’s according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who made the point in his newly published and always widely-read annual letter to shareholders.
  • During the coronavirus crisis, Amazon has been relied on — but also tested — more than ever before as customer needs of household essentials, among other products, has skyrocketed.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The chief executive of the sprawling Internet retailer that’s effectively propping up much of the US retail sector right now doesn’t think the country, which is still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus, is ready to reopen in a major way yet.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in his newly published annual letter to shareholders, notes that regular testing “on a global scale, across all industries” is what would best help keep people safe going forward and go a long way towards getting the economy back up and running. For this to work, though, we need significantly more testing capacity than is available right now, he stresses.

“If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus,” writes Bezos, whose company has found itself challenged like never before in terms of its ability to source goods and to deliver them promptly without major disruptions across its distribution network. “Those who test positive could be quarantined and cared for, and everyone who tests negative could re-enter the economy with confidence.”

No surprise, the majority of Bezos’ letter for 2019 consists of coronavirus-related commentary, and it’s topped by Bezos’ pronouncement that after working closely with medical experts and health authorities, the company has made more than 150 major process changes in its operations network and Whole Foods Market stores. Moreover, Amazon is conducting daily audits of the new measures put in place, which include the distribution of face masks and the implementation of temperature checks at its sites around the world. Additionally, the new processes include everything from regularly sanitizing door handles and stairway handrails to lockers, elevator buttons, and touch screens, while disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are now ubiquitous and a standard presence across Amazon’s network.

As far as testing goes, Amazon is also working on more on that front. “We’ve begun the work of building incremental testing capacity,” Bezos writes. “A team of Amazonians — from research scientists and program managers to procurement specialists and software engineers — moved from their normal day jobs onto a dedicated team to work on this initiative.

“We have begun assembling the equipment we need to build our first lab and hope to start testing small numbers of our frontline employees soon. We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant timeframe, but we think it’s worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn.”

All the while, the retailer is continuing to grow. Amazon’s count of full- and part-time employees as of December 31 stood at 798,000, but it’s hired another 100,000 since March and is still planning to add an extra 75,000 on top of that.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.