Three employees at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture have tested positive for coronavirus and are now in quarantine, a spokeswoman for the company says.
One case came to light on Friday, and two other cases were confirmed over the weekend, said Linda Mills, Blue Origin’s vice president of communications.
Mills discussed the first case in a statement emailed to GeekWire on Friday night;:
“This individual was last working in our Kent factory on Thursday, March 26, and has been at home since then. Blue Origin’s Human Resources team will remain in contact with him throughout the recovery period to make sure he is getting the care and support he needs while he quarantines and seeks medical care.
“The health and safety of this individual — and the Blue Origin team — is our first priority and main concern. We are following all CDC guidelines at all of our facilities, and have implemented additional procedures to ensure the ongoing safety of our employees.”
Word of that detection came a day after reports emerged that some Blue Origin employees were concerned about plans to send a team down to the company’s West Texas launch complex for an uncrewed test flight of the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft. The concerns focused not only on the potential travel risk for employees, but also on the potential for an employee with an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 to pass along the virus unwittingly to residents in the area surrounding the launch site.
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In response to those reports, Blue Origin said it’s doing everything it can “to safeguard our workforce and communities.”
Like many other aerospace companies, Blue Origin is considered an essential business and has been exempted from Washington state’s stay-at-home order. Nevertheless, Blue Origin says it has been emphasizing telework arrangements, conducting deep cleaning of its facilities, eliminating non-essential visits, minimizing travel and practicing social distancing.
We learned about the first COVID-19 case from sources who also expressed concern about other employees who might have come in contact with the infected worker. Mills addressed that concern in a follow-up email to GeekWire:
“Our Human Resources team interviewed the infected employee to assess risk to others and have contacted the small number of employees who were in contact with him. For those employees who may have been in close contact with the employee, HR has directed them to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. Upon learning of his confirmation today, we conducted another deep cleaning of the areas he visited (on top of the deep cleanings that were done earlier this week for unrelated reasons). We will continue to do deep cleanings of our workspaces, as warranted.”
The next two cases involved a married couple — with one working at the factory in Kent, Wash., and the other working at the O’Neill headquarters building across the street, Mills said today during a follow-up call. One of the employees was at work as recently as Friday.
Like the employee who was involved in the earlier case, those two employees are seeking medical care and will remain in contact with Blue Origin during their recovery period. Mills said other employees who came in contact with the patients have been directed to self-quarantine for 14 days, and the areas where they worked are being deep-cleaned.
This is an updated version of a report that was first published at 10:12 p.m. PT April 6.
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- Amid ‘rapidly evolving’ COVID-19 outbreak, Blue Origin’s launch plans spark debate
- Former Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson leaves Jeff Bezos’ space venture
- Blue Origin lays out ambitious plan for rocket engine production as it opens Alabama factory