Amazon Worker Fired After Staging Walkout Over Company’s Handling Of Coronavirus Risk

https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/amazon-fires-worker-chris-smalls-033240313.html

Amazon Worker Fired After Staging Walkout Over Company's Handling ...

Amazon fired an employee who helped organize a walkout at one of its fulfillment centers over the company’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

Chris Smalls, the employee who helped organize the demonstration, said he felt Amazon had failed to enact adequate measures to protect workers at the facility as many Americans turn to online shopping as stay-at-home mandates expand around the country. Smalls was one of a small group who walked out at a fulfillment center on Staten Island, demanding the company close the site and sanitize it before reopening. He said Amazon had notified employees at the warehouse of one confirmed case of the virus but claimed there were several others that hadn’t yet been reported.

Shortly after the strike, Smalls was terminated after working at Amazon for five years.

“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”

Amazon disputed Smalls’ account in a statement on Monday, saying he had been warned several times for “violating social distancing guidelines” and had been fired after failing to stay home. The company said Smalls’ claims were “simply unfounded.”

“He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14 days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world,” a company spokesperson told HuffPost. “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

The company also said just 15 employees out of 5,000 at its Staten Island location had participated in the demonstration.

“Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis,” the spokesperson said. “Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”

The Washington Post notes workers in at least 21 Amazon warehouses and shipping facilities in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus.

Employees at several other major companies staged walkouts on Monday. Workers at Instacart, the grocery delivery company, went on strike nationwide to demand better protections, including hazard pay and expanded paid sick leave. And employees at Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, said they planned to hold a nationwide “sick out” on Tuesday.

Workers at the Staten Island warehouse were first told last week that an employee had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but they told HuffPost’s Emily Peck that business was “normal” and “running just as it had been” after the declaration. Others said they were afraid of getting sick at work, saying there wasn’t enough protection equipment on site, such as hand sanitizer or masks.

Amazon said it has extended a range of benefits to help protect workers during the pandemic, including extended paid leave options for some employees and increased health and safety measures. Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 are entitled to up to two weeks of paid leave, and Amazon says it notifies workers at sites with infected individuals.

The ongoing efforts by warehouse workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic have garnered support from several lawmakers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote Monday that the employees were simply “demanding dignity.”

“When people work an hourly job, it’s suggested in many ways that you‘re unimportant or expendable,” she wrote on Twitter. “Except you aren’t. Everyone deserves safe work, paid leave, & a living wage.”

 

 

 

What the U.S. can learn from other countries in the coronavirus fight

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-lessons-other-countries-24794264-1653-4500-922c-7f1c66efa011.html

Coronavirus lessons that the U.S. can learn from other countries ...

The countries that have most successfully fended off the novel coronavirus have mainly done it with a combination of new technology and old-school principles.

Why it matters: There’s a lot the U.S. can learn from the way other countries have handled this global pandemic — although we may not be able to apply those lessons as quickly as we’d like.

The big picture: A handful of Asian countries, including South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, have succeeded where the U.S. and Europe have failed.

  • They were able to quickly bring the virus under control, reducing the number of new cases that cropped up each day. And they did it largely without shutting down schools, businesses and public life.

The bad news: It’s too late for the U.S. to simply do what worked in those countries. We’ve already made too many mistakes.

  • But there are still lessons for the U.S. to learn for future outbreaks — and, hopefully, there are some pieces of those countries’ larger strategies that we can adapt to our coronavirus response now.
Lesson 1: The playbook works

As a new infection begins to spread, you want to quickly test the people who might have it, and quarantine the ones who do. Then you want to figure out who else they might have infected, and test those people, and quarantine the ones who are indeed sick. This process gets repeated.

  • “If you don’t know what your population is that you’re supposed to be monitoring, you don’t have a chance,” said Claire Standley, an infectious-disease expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security.

This test-and-trace process is nothing new. It’s the standard playbook. South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan just executed it a lot better than the United States.

  • Testing and contact tracing are particularly important with this strain of coronavirus because people can spread it before they start to feel sick — so if you’re only testing the sickest patients, the virus is still spreading unchecked.
  • And it’s important to do this early. It’s a lot easier to stop five people from infecting another 15 than it is to stop 20,000 people from infecting another 60,000.

Next time a mysterious virus starts spreading abroad, better testing and a much faster response will be imperative.

Lesson 2: Technology can help

Singapore has gotten pretty draconian with its track-and-trace process.

  • The government tracks the location of residents’ smartphones, so it knows exactly who had come within a few feet of an infected or potentially infected person.
  • It uses the same location data to help enforce mandatory quarantines.

That might be too Big Brother for the U.S., but a voluntary version of it might work — we already consent to a whole lot of location tracking for much less important ends.

  • And researchers are already using population-level smartphone data to see, for example, which cities are flouting stay-at-home orders. That can help inform local response even without individualized tracking.
  • “I think we’re further along that pathway than maybe people think,” Standley said.

Taiwan, meanwhile, aided its coronavirus response by making better use of data it already had. It quickly merged its immigration and health care databases, giving authorities a real-time view of who was getting sick and where they had traveled.

  • That might be hard to copy in the U.S., though, because the relevant data are scattered across multiple local, state and federal agencies with little to no integration. And we have no centralized health data.
Lesson 3: Messaging matters

Public communication is one of the big things Italy — a leading example of what not to do — got wrong.

  • Some Italian officials downplayed the virus for too long. Leaders often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, about piecemeal interventions before finally locking down the entire country as cases skyrocketed.

Singapore, by contrast, came out early with a clear message: This was going to be bad for a while, and people needed to stick together and do their part.

The U.S., so far, looks a lot more like Italy.

  • President Trump has sent similarly mixed messages here, initially downplaying the virus and saying it would go away on its own before changing his tone as cases mounted.
What’s next

The U.S. can’t go back in time to get things right at the beginning. So we can’t match the success of places like South Korea.

  • Our best backup plan is to stick with aggressive social distancing and give our testing capacity more time to ramp up.
  • We don’t seem to be on track to ever achieve the kind of sophisticated track-and-trace programs Asia employed, but hopefully some cruder version can help us find our way out of this if we keep the number of new cases low in the meantime.

The bottom line: “If we had got on top of this thing two months ago, America would look very, very different,” Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said in a recent interview with the New Yorker.

 

 

 

 

Nurses Die, Doctors Fall Sick and Panic Rises on Virus Front Lines

Nurses Die, Doctors Fall Sick and Panic Rises on Virus Front Lines ...

The pandemic has begun to sweep through New York City’s medical ranks, and anxiety is growing among normally dispassionate medical professionals.

A supervisor urged surgeons at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan to volunteer for the front lines because half the intensive-care staff had already been sickened by coronavirus.

“ICU is EXPLODING,” she wrote in an email.

A doctor at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan described the unnerving experience of walking daily past an intubated, critically ill colleague in her 30s, wondering who would be next.

Another doctor at a major New York City hospital described it as “a petri dish,” where more than 200 workers had fallen sick.

Two nurses in city hospitals have died.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 30,000 people in New York City, is beginning to take a toll on those who are most needed to combat it: the doctors, nurses and other workers at hospitals and clinics. In emergency rooms and intensive care units, typically dispassionate medical professionals are feeling panicked as increasing numbers of colleagues get sick.

“I feel like we’re all just being sent to slaughter,” said Thomas Riley, a nurse at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, who has contracted the virus, along with his husband.

Medical workers are still showing up day after day to face overflowing emergency rooms, earning them praise as heroes. Thousands of volunteers have signed up to join their colleagues.

But doctors and nurses said they can look overseas for a dark glimpse of the risk they are facing, especially when protective gear has been in short supply.

In China, more than 3,000 doctors were infected, nearly half of them in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, according to Chinese government statistics. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first tried to raise the alarm about Covid-19, eventually died of it.

In Italy, the number of infected heath care workers is now twice the Chinese total, and the National Federation of Orders of Surgeons and Dentists has compiled a list of 50 who have died. Nearly 14 percent of Spain’s confirmed coronavirus cases are medical professionals.

New York City’s health care system is sprawling and disjointed, making precise infection rates among medical workers difficult to calculate. A spokesman for the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs New York City’s public hospitals, said the agency would not share data about sick medical workers “at this time.”

William P. Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said the situation across the country was too fluid to begin tracking such data, but he said he expected the danger to intensify.

“Doctors are getting sick everywhere,” he said.

Last week, two nurses in New York, including Kious Kelly, a 48-year-old assistant nurse manager at Mount Sinai West, died from the disease; they are believed to be the first known victims among the city’s medical workers. Health care workers across the city said they feared many more would follow.

Mr. Riley, the nurse at Jacobi, said when he looked at the emergency room recently, he realized he and his colleagues would never avoid being infected. Patients struggling to breathe with lungs that sounded like sandpaper had crowded the hospital. Masks and protective gowns were in short supply.

“I’m swimming in this,” he said he thought. “I’m pretty sure I’m getting this.”

His symptoms began with a cough, then a fever, then nausea and diarrhea. Days later, his husband became ill. Mr. Riley said both he and his husband appear to be getting better, but are still experiencing symptoms.

Like generals steadying their troops before battle, hospital supervisors in New York have had to rally, cajole and sometimes threaten workers.

“Our health care systems are at war with a pandemic virus,” Craig R. Smith, the surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, wrote in an email to staff on March 16, the day after New York City shut down its school system to contain the virus. “You are expected to keep fighting with whatever weapons you’re capable of working.”

“Sick is relative,” he wrote, adding that workers would not even be tested for the virus unless they were “unequivocally exposed and symptomatic to the point of needing admission to the hospital.”

“That means you come to work,” he wrote. “Period.”

Arriving to work each day, doctors and nurses are met with confusion and chaos.

At a branch of the Montefiore hospital system in the Bronx, nurses wear their winter coats in an unheated tent set up to triage patients with symptoms, while at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, patients are sometimes dying before they can be moved into beds.

The inviolable rules that once gave a sense of rhythm and harmony to even the busiest emergency rooms have in some cases been cast aside. Few things have caused more anxiety than shifting protocols meant to preserve a dwindling supply of protective gear.

When the pandemic first hit New York, medical workers changed gowns and masks each time they visited an infected patient. Then, they were told to keep their protective gear on until the end of their shift. As supplies became even more scarce, one doctor working on an intensive care unit said he was asked to turn in his mask and face shield at the end of his shift to be sterilized for future use. Others are being told to store their masks in a paper bag between shifts.

“It puts us in danger, it puts our patients in danger. I can’t believe in the United States that’s what’s happening,” said Kelley Cabrera, an emergency room nurse at Jacobi Medical Center.

An emergency room doctor at Long Island Jewish Medical Center put it more bluntly: “It’s literally, wash your hands a lot, cross your fingers, pray.”

Doctors and nurses fear they could be transmitting the virus to their patients, compounding the crisis by transforming hospitals into incubators for the virus. That has happened in Italy, in part because infected doctors struggle through their shifts, according to an article published by physicians at a hospital in Bergamo, a city in one of the hardest-hit regions.

Frontline hospital workers in New York are now required to take their temperature every 12 hours, though many doctors and nurses fear they could contract the disease and spread it to patients before they become symptomatic.

They also say it is a challenge to know when to come back to work after being sick. All medical workers who show symptoms, even if they are not tested, must quarantine for at least seven days and must be asymptomatic for three days before coming back to work.

But some employers have been more demanding than others, workers said.

Lillian Udell, a nurse at Lincoln Medical Center, another public hospital in the Bronx, said she was still weak and experiencing symptoms when she was pressured to return to work. She powered through a long shift that was so chaotic she could not remember how many patients she attended. By the time she returned home, the chills and the cough had returned.

“I knew it was still in me,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t myself.”

Christopher Miller, a spokesman for the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said the agency could not comment on Ms. Udell’s claim, but said its hospitals had “never asked health care workers who are sick and have symptoms of Covid-19 to continue to work or to come back to work.”

There is also the fear of bringing the disease home to spouses and children. Some medical workers said they were sleeping in different rooms from their partners and even wearing surgical masks at home. Others have chosen to isolate themselves from their families completely, sending spouses and children to live outside the city, or moving into hotels.

“I come home, I strip naked, put clothes in a bag and put them in the washer and take a shower,” one New York City doctor at a large public hospital said.

Because the pathogen has spread so widely, even medical workers not assigned directly to work with infected patients risk contracting the disease.

A gynecologist who works for the Mount Sinai hospital system said she had begun seeing women in labor who were positive for the coronavirus. Because she is not considered a front-line worker, she said, restrictions on protective gear are even more stringent than on Covid-19 units. She said she was not aware of any patients who had tested positive after contact with doctors or nurses, but felt it was only a matter of time.

“We’re definitely contaminating pregnant mothers that we’re assessing and possibly discharging home,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition on anonymity because her hospital had not authorized her to speak.

Mount Sinai said in a statement that it had faced equipment shortages like other hospitals, but added the issues had been solved in part by a large shipment of masks that arrived from China over the weekend. The hospital “moved mountains” to get the shipment, the statement said.

This week, the Health and Hospitals Corporation recommended transferring doctors and nurses at higher risk of infection — such as those who are older or with underlying medical conditions — from jobs interacting with patients to more administrative positions.

But Kimberly Marsh, a nurse at Westchester Medical Center outside New York City, said she has no intention of leaving the fight, even though she is a 53-year-old smoker with multiple sclerosis and on a medication that warns against getting near people with infections.

“It almost feels selfish,” she said, though she acknowledged that with two years before retirement she could not afford leave if she wanted to.

Even so, she said, the fear is palpable each time she steps into the emergency room. A nurse on her unit has already contracted the virus and one doctor is so scared he affixes an N95 mask to his face with tape at the beginning of each shift. Ms. Marsh said she sweats profusely in her protective gear because she is going through menopause and suffers from hot flashes.

“We all think we’re screwed,” she said. “I know without any doubt that I’m going to lose colleagues. There’s just no way around it.”