Tech

Amazon authorized to distribute its own COVID-19 testing kits

But to get one, you have to work for the company.

Young Caucasian female patient visiting her doctor's office and getting herself tested for coronavirus by her doctor who's wearing a protective face mask and is using a cotton swab
Brothers91/E+/Getty Images

Too bad it didn’t happen sooner. The Verge reports that Amazon has received FDA authorization for a COVID-19 test made by its own in-house subsidiary. The company only plans on using the tests on its own staff initially, primarily to test warehouse workers. It also sells a COVID-19 testing kit from the company DxTerity that anyone can purchase on its website for $110.

The new test is a pretty standard nasal swab that can be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider or as part of an at-home kit where a patient takes the sample themselves.

According to the FDA’s authorization, Amazon will automatically schedule appointments for some employees every 14 days, though the tests are voluntary. A third-party healthcare provider will be the one actually issuing prescriptions and test orders.

Roll your own — Last year when the pandemic was going into full swing, huge numbers of Amazon workers contracted COVID-19. The company faced a lot of backlash over its treatment of workers in its warehouses, who complained they weren’t provided with ample protective equipment or time off. Amazon eventually provided more safety gear and began offering two weeks of paid time off to anyone worker who became sick with COVID.

At the time, the United States was still having a hard time sourcing testing kits, and CEO Jeff Bezos said that he wanted his company to go it alone with its own tests. “Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running,” Bezos said in the letter. “For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available.”

Offering tests to workers is at least something. But critics say that Amazon should have continued offering its $2 per hour hazard bonus, which it discontinued in May 2020 after just a few months. And according to Motherboard, an inquiry by the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) recently found that Amazon illegally interrogated an employee for leading walk-outs protesting COVID-19 conditions at a New York warehouse where at least one worker died from the disease. Amazon is fighting aggressively against efforts by workers to unionize and demand better working conditions.

Offering tests to workers, then, is clearly intended to keep work moving more than anything. Based on Amazon’s other moves in healthcare, Amazon’s work making the COVID-19 test could eventually lead to products that actually make money.

$$$ — Healthcare has become something of a new frontier for Amazon, which in 2019 launched its own in-house healthcare program called Amazon Care that includes virtual meetings with doctors as well as in-person care at a patient’s home. Initially limited to employees of the company, Amazon recently announced it will expand the offering to other companies. Amazon also in 2019 acquired a company called PillPack that delivers prescription drugs through the mail.

These types of initiatives are supposed to make healthcare easier and more accessible and will help Amazon get a slice of the lucrative industry in the process.