Amazon could ‘do a better job’ testing for coronavirus than Trump administration, Kara Swisher says

As the economy remains shuttered to contain the novel coronavirus, the U.S. still lags Italy, Germany, Canada, and South Korea in testing for the disease per million people, according to data analyzed this week by Vox.

The U.S. has conducted a total of 2.9 million tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project — but one economist estimates the country will need 35 million tests per day in order for Americans to get back to work.

In a newly released interview, taped on March 16, Recode co-founder and newly appointed New York Magazine Editor-at-Large Kara Swisher sharply criticized insufficient testing made available by the Trump administration and said e-commerce giant Amazon (AMZN) could more effectively carry out nationwide tests.

Overall, the pandemic will result in a larger role in the health care industry for Amazon as well as other tech giants like Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG, GOOGL), Swisher said.

“Why couldn’t Amazon do testing for this virus?” Swisher tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. “It probably would do a better job than the Trump administration, although that’s a very low bar.”

Recode Co-founder Kara Swisher joins “Influencers with Andy Serwer.”

Last month, Amazon and the Gates Foundation reportedly explored plans to deliver coronavirus tests to residents of Seattle, Wa. Speaking with Swisher, Serwer pointed to observers who’ve said Amazon is the “perfect company to deliver masks and everything else.”

“100%,” Swisher replies. “And they’d do it right.”

A slow rollout of tests

Public health officials have faulted the Trump administration for a failure to ramp up testing in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

Technical delays, strict regulatory procedure around CDC-developed tests, and an initial lack of urgency from Trump contributed to the slow rollout of coronavirus tests in the U.S., the New Yorker reported last month. Observers have also pointed to challenges in gaining access to samples of the virus as well as a dearth of equipment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the existence of a new coronavirus in China on Jan. 9, and the agency declared a global health emergency on Jan. 30. But it wasn’t until Feb. 26 that President Donald Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of a coronavirus task force — and it wasn’t until March 16 that the task force released guidelines to stop the spread of the virus.

An Amazon-led effort to distribute coronavirus tests would benefit both the company and the public, Swisher said on a March 13 episode of the Pivot, a podcast she co-hosts with New York University professor Scott Galloway.

“I think for Amazon, this would be a win, to be involved in this,” she says. “And it would work with Amazon’s distribution system and its ability to reach people. I think there are all kinds of private solutions to this.”

Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak has raised issues for Amazon, as the company has seen a spike in demand for its e-commerce delivery service but also a string of protests among its warehouse workers, who say they’ve received inadequate safety equipment and sick leave. Amazon rebuts the claims, and has vowed to impose temperature checks and provide protective masks at all U.S. facilities.

Recode Co-founder Kara Swisher joins “Influencers with Andy Serwer.”

Swisher made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

In 2014, Swisher co-founded digital tech outlet Recode, after working as a reporter at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Vox Media acquired Recode the following year, and last year Vox took ownership of New York Magazine. In a new arrangement announced on Monday, Swisher’s Pivot podcast will air under at New York Magazine and she will serve as editor-at-large for the publication.

Swisher has also worked as a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times since 2018.

The pandemic will likely increase the role in health care played by major tech companies, Swisher said.

“You could see in the future a lot of these tech companies getting into health care,” she adds. “You’ll see Apple get into health care, Amazon get into health care, maybe Google get into health care.”

Indeed, big tech has already taken an interest in health care. In January 2018, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced he would team up with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett to disrupt health care by forming an independent company for their own employees’ coverage. The group later formed a nonprofit and named surgeon and author Dr. Atul Gawande as chief executive.

Swisher expressed high hopes for the role of big tech in health care but also pointed to shortcomings in the sector. But soon more tech employees could have health coverage. She noted a new law AB5, enacted in California last September, that requires companies to reclassify freelancers who meet a minimum work threshold as full-fledged employees, likely leading companies to provide some additional workers with health care.

“We had to change what a worker is and how we protect them,” Swisher says. “It brings into very sharp relief how important health care is and the delivery of health care.”

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