Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says "vastly more" COVID-19 testing is needed for the U.S. economy to reopen, while his company is building its own lab to potentially begin its own testing of all workers.

"We have begun assembling the equipment we need to build our first lab and hope to start testing small numbers of our frontline employees soon," Bezos wrote in a letter Thursday to the shareholders.

"Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running," he said. "For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available."

Amazon has previously disclosed it was building its first lab and expected to soon begin testing some workers. The company has moved a number of research scientists, software engineers and others to a dedicated team that's building Amazon's "incremental testing capacity" for coronavirus

"We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant time frame," Bezos said, echoing the earlier announcement, "but we think it's worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn."

Bezos' letter ran through the list of various changes that Amazon has made in recent weeks during the pandemic. The company, which employs 840,000 people worldwide, has faced protests and outcry from some workers who say they don't feel safe continuing to work in its warehouses. Amazon has recently started checking all workers' temperatures, distributing masks and implementing other safety measures.

"A next step in protecting our employees might be regular testing of all Amazonians, including those showing no symptoms," Bezos wrote.

The need for mass testing has become a major question raised by health care and corporate leaders in conversations with the White House about how to reopen the economy. Companies are concerned about workers returning to their jobs while potentially sick but asymptomatic. That could lead to further spread of the disease as well as potentially a spurt of worker lawsuits.

Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters.

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