Amazon and Gates Foundation may team up to deliver coronavirus test kits to Seattle homes

Christina Farr for CNBC

Amazon Care, the company’s virtual medical clinic for employees, is in talks with local public health organizations about using its logistics expertise to help deliver at-home coronavirus testing kits to people’s homes in the Seattle area.

The discussions have been going on for more than a week, say three people with knowledge of the plans. The people declined to share their names because Amazon Care’s involvement is still confidential, and they have not been authorized to do so.

Specifically, Amazon Care has offered the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation its assistance with a project that aims to provide kits to Seattle residents who suspect they have symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The test kits include nose swabs that can be mailed to the University of Washington for analysis.

Seattle has become one of the hardest hit regions for the coronavirus in the United States. Schools have been shut down in the Seattle area for almost a week, and King County is now reporting dozens of new cases per day. Health officials say the increase in testing is responsible in part for the big spike in cases. Almost a week ago, Amazon told Seattle employees to work from home after an employee tested positive for the virus.

For the Amazon Care team, working with local public health groups would be an opportunity for the group to expand its focus outside of its own workers. Amazon Care launched in September of 2019 as a pilot project to deliver high-quality health care to employees and their dependents in the Seattle area. It includes an app and website for employees to ask questions, but there’s also the option to schedule a nurse visit to the home if followup care is required. Amazon has also hired public health experts and doctors to work on Amazon Care, including Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist, and Dr. Kristi Henderson, a clinical operations leader who previously worked in population health.

Goal is to process thousands of tests a day

The project to create and distribute home-testing kits uses funds that were originally set aside for the Seattle Flu Project to help map the spread of influenza, according to the Seattle Times. Other collaborators on the Gates-funded project include UW Medicine, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s.

Amazon Care has specifically offered to help come up with a delivery plan, at no cost, so the kits can be delivered within a few hours. Currently, the Seattle Flu Project sends the kits via mail, according to its website, and asks patients to send them back. Involving Amazon could speed the process up.

The goal is to process thousands of tests per day, and ideally to keep sick people out of doctor’s offices or clinics where they could expose others. Testing has been limited until recently, but is starting to shift as state and federal health officials have started relaxing the criteria for who should get tested.

A spokesperson for Amazon Care told CNBC that it’s in discussions with local public health leaders on how best the company can help.

Amazon hasn’t spoken out much publicly about its efforts to help out with the coronavirus. But it has said that it will combat price gouging on its marketplace, as prices for face masks, hand sanitizer and other items have skyrocketed.

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