Workers look out windows at Shakopee Amazon (copy)

At least 88 Amazon associates have tested positive for COVID-19. One man who contracted the disease said the risk is “too big” and that the fulfillment center should have closed for at least two months to grapple with the pandemic before an outbreak occurred. In a file photo, Amazon workers peer out a window at the Shakopee Amazon facility.

The Amazon warehouse in Shakopee has had 88 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its 2,500 associates as of June 22, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The real number of infections is likely higher, since 58 Minnesota Amazon employees who tested positive did not specify which facility they worked at.

Amazon didn’t respond for a request for comment Tuesday on the latest numbers.

The company previously said it’s doing everything it can to protect its employees while providing essential items to customers, such as with paid sick leave for employees diagnosed with or presumed to have COVID-19.

Several local employees have called on the company to do more to protect workers, including Shakopee Amazon associate Suleman Ahmed, who said he was among the facilities’ cases in late April.

Ahmed started to feel dizzy while driving home to St. Paul after work and parked his car on the side of the road, waiting 20 minutes before he felt well enough to continue.

The next day, Ahmed called Amazon and reported that he was feeling the symptoms of COVID-19. After nearly a week of wrestling with the illness, he said he went to the emergency room, where he tested positive and was told he needed to quarantine for 14 days.

It’s unproven, but Ahmed said he believes he contracted COVID-19 while working.

“That’s the only place I go,” he said. “I go to work, and then I come home. That’s all.”

Before his diagnosis, Ahmed said, his pregnant wife worried about his risk of getting sick. “I told her, if I leave this job, how will I get paid?” he said. Faced with balancing the need to provide for his family with the need to keep them healthy, he chose to keep working before his diagnosis.

Ahmed was paid for the 15 days he took off while ill. But Ahmed said the facility is still risky.

“I was very weak,” Ahmed said. “I mean, nearly to the grave. Amazon should have closed for two to three months. … That’s a lot of people to share bathrooms.”

The coronavirus spreads most easily in indoor places where people crowd close together, according to federal and state health officials, leading to recommendations for face masks and social distancing. Even those not showing symptoms can spread the virus to others.

Amazon conducts temperature screenings on workers, enforces the wearing of masks and boards up seats in the break room, but “a lot of people walk in between each other,” Ahmed said. “I never felt safe.”

Ahmed said he has many coworkers who also fear for their health at work at Amazon but none were willing to speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs.

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the end of April to investigate the firings of two employees who criticized what they called a lack of decisive management by Amazon to protect its employees.

According to a spokesperson from OSHA, the department has an open complaint about Amazon, but the nature of that complaint will not become public until after it’s closed. Amazon said Omar’s accusations are “simply unfounded” and that the individuals were terminated for violating internal policies.

Amazon is offering unlimited, unpaid time off for employees who don’t feel comfortable reporting to work during the pandemic. The company said in an April press release that it’s also contacting people who have been in close contact with a diagnosed individual and allowing them to quarantine for 14 days with pay.

In April, Amazon hired 600 associates to keep up with the demand that started with the onslaught of the pandemic, which left many Americans homebound and buying goods online.

Ahmed said many of the new people hired “don’t care (about COVID-19) because they want the money.”

“But we have family, we have elderly people, we have vulnerable people,” Ahmed said. “The risk is too high.”

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