Amazon staff may be timetabled for an onsite test or have the option to receive an at-home kit to conduct the test at home, the document states.
The authorization also mentions Amazon’s employee screening program, in which some staff will be automatically scheduled for a test approximately every 14 days, upon employee discretion. Previously, staff could only sign up to get tested through an internal system.
The letter of approval is addressed to Cem Sibay, the vice president of Amazon Labs. Last year, Amazon tapped Cem Sibay, a 15-year company veteran, to lead its efforts to build an in-house COVID-19 testing lab, Insider previously reported.
Insider has approached Amazon for comment.
Over the past year, Amazon has ramped up its COVID-19 testing capabilities for its workforce. Last January, the company announced it was selling an FDA-approved at-home saliva COVID-19 test for $110, curated by DxTerity, a genomics company. All employees have to do is provide a small amount of saliva in an empty tube bottle, and then mail it to a Los Angeles-based lab.
Figures show the US has 30.8 million COVID-19 cases. This means tests are in great demand. Last October, Amazon reported that nearly 20,000 employees contracted the virus between March 1 and September 19.
A region of France has been beset by a version of the coronavirus that can hide from standard tests.
The French ministry of health and social affairs announced Monday that among a cluster of 79 COVID-19 cases in Brittany, eight patients were infected with the new variant, but several of them tested negative.
Despite those negative tests, the patients showed typical COVID-19 symptoms.
The new variant does not yet have a alphanumeric designation. But it’s not the first variant that appears able to evade testing. Finnish researchers announced last month that they had identified a strain named Fin-796H with a mutation that made it difficult to detect with some nasal-swab tests, too.
An inability to accurately diagnose infected people could make it harder to curtail the virus’s spread at a time when cases across Europe are already spiking.
Confirming infections with the new variant is tricky
The standard molecular lab tests – known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests – hunt for an infection in a swab from a patient’s nose, looking for the coronavirus’s genetic code.
But according to the French Health Directorate, genetic sequencing revealed that the variant found in Brittany has several mutations on its spike protein that help it evade detection by these diagnostic tests.
Health officials in Brittany eventually confirmed some of the cases caused by the new variant by either testing the patients’ blood for antibodies or collecting samples of phlegm the patients coughed up from inside their lungs and running those through a RT-PCR test.
But neither of those methods are the typical COVID-19 tests, which suggests the new variant could be circulating undetected in France and possibly beyond.
However, one European diagnostics company, the Novacyt Group, announced Thursday that its PCR tests can successfully detect the new variant.
The variant doesn’t appear to be deadlier or more infectious
All eight of the French patients infected with the new variant died of the virus, according to local outlet LaDepeche, but local health officials said that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more deadly than other strains.
There is no evidence yet that the strain is more transmissible than other versions of the virus. More studies are still needed to figure out whether it can evade vaccines or antibodies from prior coronavirus infections, the French health ministry said in a release.
The variant’s genetic profile shows it doesn’t share any key mutations with B.1.351 and P.1 – the variants first found in South Africa and Brazil, respectively – which are more contagious and can partially evade vaccines.
News of the variant in Brittany came amid France’s third peak of infections.
The average number of daily coronavirus cases there has doubled since mid-December, jumping from less than 15,000 to a near record-high of more than 38,000 on Wednesday. The increase prompted Prime Minister Jean Castex to announce new lockdowns for Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region on Thursday.
France has been under a nationwide curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. for the last two months.
“By July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a BBQ and celebrate Independence Day,” President Biden said Thursday, on the one year anniversary of World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration.
“This is not the last pandemic we’re all gonna face, and we will need to do much, much better next time around,” Brown University dean of public health Ashish Jha told reporters on the pandemic’s anniversary this week.
“We just can’t repeat this performance again, it has been so awful,” he said.
Knowing that, here are the four things we could clearly be doing better to live alongside the virus more safely and more tolerably, right now.
1. Forget abstinence. We should be encouraging the right kinds of travel.
There’s no reason that grandparents can’t fly around the country to see their grandkids this summer, with some level of continued vigilance.
“Obviously, vaccinations are awesome, and we need to vaccinate people [but] we cannot give up on testing,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told reporters Thursday, on the one year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration.
“I think testing will remain an important part of this pandemic response, of this disease response, for years,” he added. “And I mean for years, I don’t just mean for the next couple of months.”
We need to be smarter about when we get tested
Amidst constantly changing advisories about when to get tested, most people haven’t gotten the proper timing down.
Experts recommend waiting five to seven days after any known coronavirus exposure to get a COVID test. During that waiting period, you should self-isolate to be sure that you’re not exposing others to the virus if you are sick (or potentially getting infected yourself).
The coronavirus’s incubation period is between two and 14 days, so it’s best to keep away from others while you wait for your results. Some experts even suggest getting a second test if your first one is negative, just in case the virus was still incubating when you first got tested.
Experts also stress that in the next phase of the pandemic, a different kind of widespread, surveillance-style testing will become more and more important.
“We’ve got to be able to run both testing sites and vaccination sites, and cannot be trading off one for the other,” Jha said.
Kids in primary schools won’t be vaccinated this summer, so it’ll be important to have rapid tests available when schools reopen, and at other large indoor gatherings where it’s unclear who’s vaccinated and who’s not: indoor concerts, plays, weddings, offices, and college campuses could all benefit from more rapid tests, which are not perfect, but do often help screen out the most infectious among us.
“Testing will add a really important level of safety in making those things possible,” Jha said.
A negative test result should still be treated with caution
Even if you do everything right before getting a COVID-19 test, your results still only reflect a moment in time, and are never 100% accurate. That means a negative test result is not an “immunity passport” or permission to live as if you’re COVID-free. You could be incubating the virus today, and become infectious to others tomorrow.
Getting tested for COVID-19 is not pointless, but be thoughtful about when and why you’re seeking out that swab.
If you’re getting tested so you can visit with a high-risk family member, for example, you should plan to get a test five days after your most recent potential exposure (which might be the plane/train ride there, if you’re taking a trip). After waiting out the incubation period and potentially getting a second test, the first place you go should be grandma’s house – not a restaurant or your friend’s apartment where others could be getting you sick.
Ultimately, a negative test is going to be just one in a slew of COVID-19 prevention measures that will be with us for a while: wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and traveling less. Doing that, what some health experts have dubbed the “swiss cheese” model of infection prevention, and including a negative test in the mix, leaves very little room for the virus to spread, especially if the more vulnerable members of your party have already been vaccinated.
In Massachusetts, elementary schools are saving on testing supplies by pooling many students’ samples together, helping to ensure entire classrooms are virus-free for learning.
Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina is teaming up with Citibank to get the company’s employees to use rapid, at home tests three times a week, and measure whether that cuts down on disease spread in the workplace.
“These types of tests are (remarkably) not FDA authorized for frequent use at home,” Mina tweeted on Thursday as his new study was announced.
“I’m committed to helping us (society) not find ourselves having to distance from our loved ones for a year ever again,” he added. “And I’ll keep working to identify creative avenues that prevent another year like the one we are emerging from.”
At the start of the pandemic, few countries were more ripe for a major coronavirus outbreak than India.
Not only is India the world’s second most populous country, it’s also one of the densest, with around 1,200 people per square mile. Cases there climbed steadily from April through September, reaching a peak of nearly 100,000 daily cases on September 16.
Then something unexpected happened: India’s daily cases plummeted from mid-September until February, with average weekly cases dropping by roughly a third each month. The nation is now reporting fewer than 11,300 daily cases, on average – around 8 per 1 million people, among the lowest per-capita rates in the world.
India’s health ministry has attributed this success to a few factors, including a robust testing and contact-tracing effort. But infectious-disease experts say the quick turnaround is puzzling.
India only began administering coronavirus vaccines in mid-January, so it’s probably too soon for vaccinations to affect transmission. Some public-health experts say India’s strict mask mandates may have helped lower cases, but masks have been required there since April, so that don’t fully explain why cases dwindled so dramatically in the fall.
“There are a lot of questions and lessons to be learned, and I think that we need to do a deeper dive into what they’ve done well,” Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, told Insider.
Kuppalli’s previous research focused on barriers to medical care among women with HIV in southern India.
“I know from having worked and lived in India that they have a lot of challenges in terms of dealing with large populations that are in close quarters, infection control issues, hygiene issues, ventilation issues – all the things that we are concerned about in terms of how this disease spreads,” she said.
Kuppalli added that it’s worth studying whether India’s population may have unique genetic or demographic characteristics that make people less susceptible to symptomatic COVID-19 infection. It’s also possible, she added, that coronavirus cases are simply hard to record in rural areas.
Penalties for not wearing masks
Widespread adherence to public-health measures may partly explain why India has gotten its outbreak under control. Several large cities and states there began requiring masks in public places in April, two months before the World Health Organization recommended face coverings for the general public.
For the most part, Indians have been supportive of mask requirements: In an October survey from social media platform LocalCircles (which included more than 15,000 responses across roughly 200 districts in India), nearly 90% of respondents said they were in favor of a mask mandate. About 40% said they would support increased penalties for those who didn’t comply.
The US, by contrast, has struggled to convince large segments of the public that masks are an effective tool.
“The United States very much failed from a lack of national leadership, miscommunication, and a lack of community engagement. I think we can really boil it down to those three things,” Kuppalli said, adding, “we still have people who don’t believe the pandemic is real in this country.”
A focus on ‘test, trace, isolate’
Epidemiologists typically rely on a three-step strategy to contain a virus: test, trace, isolate.
Though India’s testing got off to a slow start, it has ramped up considerably since the summer. By August, the nation had nearly 1,600 testing labs, up from just 14 in February 2020. India is administering nearly 486,000 daily tests. Only two other countries, the UK and the US, are testing more.
India’s large population also worked to its advantage when it came to enlisting contact tracers.
From March through April, tens of thousands of health workers traced the contacts of more than 435,000 infected people across two southern states, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The workers reached more than 3 million contacts, around 575,000 of whom had available COVID-19 test results.
These efforts were made easier by a longstanding disease surveillance network that began monitoring COVID-19 cases in late January 2020.
As of April, Indian residents could download the nation’s contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, to find out if they had been been within 6 feet of an infected person. Indian residents are asked to download the app if isolating due to a positive COVID-19 test and report any symptoms to a local surveillance officer.
Possible immunity to new pathogens
India has indeed seen fewer COVID-19 deaths per million than many developed nations. As of Wednesday, 113 out of every million people in India had died of COVID-19, compared to nearly 1,500 out of every million in the US and 1,755 per million in the UK.
India is now recording fewer than one daily death per million people.
Kuppalli said India’s rapidly falling cases raises another important question: “Are there things about this particular population, this ethnicity, that puts them at decreased risk?”
An August study suggested that populations with a higher exposure to diverse types of bacteria – predominantly due to poor sanitation – might see fewer COVID-19 deaths per million, perhaps because of an acquired or innate immunity to new pathogens. This line of thinking isn’t new: A 2006 study found that developing countries may have a different “immunological experience” with tuberculosis than the US and Europe.
“Look at the average Indian: He or she has probably had malaria at some point in his life or typhoid or dengue,” Sayli Udas-Mankikar, an urban policy expert at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, recently told NPR. “You end up with basic immunity toward grave diseases.”
The idea remains a theory for now, however.
Rural populations are harder to surveil
The coronavirus spreads best in dense, crowded environments. That means countries like the US, where more than 80% of residents live in urban areas, face an uphill battle to contain the virus’ spread.
India, on the other hand, is less urbanized: Around 65% of Indian residents live in rural areas.
Though the virus has undoubtedly reached India’s rural population, the nation’s cities have been particularly hard-hit. By May, nearly 80% of India’s total COVID-19 cases hailed from just 30 cities. A January survey found that 56% out 28,000 people sampled in Delhi tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
But Kuppalli said health trends among India’s rural population are difficult to track.
For one thing, rural areas are larger and more spread out. Many Indians living in these communities also lack internet access, which prevents them from plugging into the nation’s surveillance network.
Kuppalli also noted that it’s difficult for patients who are sick in rural places to get to large urban hospitals because of transportation or financial issues. A 2018 report found that only one state-run hospital is available for every 90,000 people in India’s rural communities. That could mean that India simply isn’t recording as many rural cases.
That too, is just a possibility, though. For now, Kuppalli said, “it’s great that they’ve had this turnaround.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to study this population,” she added. “There are lots of things to think about and try to understand.”
This article was originally published on February 3. It has been updated to reflect the latest data on India’s coronavirus cases.