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An Amazon Go store at the Amazon.com Inc. headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Photo: David Ryder via Getty Images

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that the state has ordered Amazon to pay $500,000 for "concealing COVID-19 case numbers" from workers.

Why it matters: The court judgment is the first of its kind under California's new "right to know" law, which aims to bolster worker safety by requiring employers to disclose coronavirus cases to employees and local health agencies, among other provisions.

Details: Amazon "failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of COVID-19 case numbers, often leaving them in the dark and unable to effectively track the spread of the virus," Bonta's office said in a statement.

  • Amazon will modify its COVID notification systems, submit to regulatory monitoring and pay $500,000 toward further enforcement of the state's consumer protection laws.

What they're saying: "Californians have a right to know about potential exposures to the coronavirus to protect themselves, their families, and their communities," Bonta said in his statement.

  • "This judgment sends a clear message that businesses must comply with this important law. It helps protect us all."

The other side: An Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the firm was glad to have the matter resolved "and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings."

  • "This settlement is solely about a technicality specific to California state law surrounding the structure of bulk employee COVID-related notifications," the spokesperson added.
  • "There’s no change to, or allegations of any problems with, our protocols for notifying employees who might have been in close contact with an affected individual."
"We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers — incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date — and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead."
— Amazon spokesperson

The big picture: Amazon has faced complaints and criticism about worker safety throughout the pandemic.

  • Last year, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined Amazon $1,870 for violations related to working conditions at delivery and fulfillment centers, per the Los Angeles Times.
  • Xavier Becerra, who was then-attorney general of California, also launched an investigation into whether Amazon was doing enough to mitigate risks of infection among workers, the Washington Post reported last year.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon in February, alleging noncompliance with workplace rules.

Go deeper

Omicron variant found in Philadelphia man

A technician handles tubes containing swab samples for COVID-19. Photo: Ahmad Salem/Getty Images

A Northwest Philadelphia resident has tested positive for the Omicron variant, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced Friday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case of the new coronavirus variant involves a man in his 30s, the department said.

Updated Dec 2, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on health equity in 2022

On Thursday, December 2nd, Axios health care reporter Tina Reed and congressional reporter Alayna Treene examined persisting health equity issues and the work underway to close gaps in access, featuring Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Baltimore City Health Department Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa, and Brown University dean of the School of Public Health & Professor of Health Services, Policy, & Practice Dr. Ashish K. Jha.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha identified the assumptions policymakers should be making about coronavirus through the winter season, what the pandemic highlighted in terms of health equity issues, and the most powerful tools to funding health inequity solutions.

  • On what policymakers should consider for coronavirus next year: “The big picture point I would make to policymakers is 2022 really should be our pivot year, the year we take this acute phase of the pandemic and turn it into something that we’re going to manage more chronically over the long run. What do we need to do that? Obviously, we need to continue to get more Americans vaccinated.”
  • On the pandemic’s exposure of longstanding health inequities: “It’s taken all of the challenges we’ve had, all of the longstanding inequities we’ve had in our country and really exposed them in a way and made them worse. It hasn’t created new inequities. I would say these inequities have existed for a long time, what it has really done is just highlight them in a way that is now hard to ignore.”

Rep. Robin Kelly discussed the health care initiatives in the Build Back Better agenda, the obstacles to health equity progress, and the policy provisions shaping next year’s health care agenda.

  • On obstacles standing in the way of progress: “People have different lenses, and I think that people know we need to get these things done. There’s no excuse for our maternal mortality rates, the health care disparities. COVID put a great big spotlight on the inequities and the disparities in this country.”
  • On upcoming health care policy priorities: “I think the Build Back Better Act is a great first step, but we’ll still be discussing maternal mortality, we’ll still be looking at health equity, we’ll still be looking at diversifying the health care pipeline, diversifying clinical trials, lowering prescription drug costs.”

Letitia Dzirasa explained potential impacts of the new Omicron variant on public health messaging, addressing health equity issues at a local level, and the public health challenges at the forefront for next year.

  • On looking at data and community input to inform health equity interventions: “I think it’s very important that we look at the data, that we understand the disparities and where they exist. But as we’re planning interventions and how best to implement a particular program or outreach method, we have to be community informed, so we’re looking to the community to plan alongside us.”
  • On the public health challenges defining the year ahead: “I think the important thing to note is that all of our other public health challenges did not go away because COVID came along, and so we’re going to be playing catch up in other public health areas for quite some time. I am encouraged by the increased federal funding going towards public health, but you have to remember this is an area that has been chronically underfunded.”

Axios Chief People Officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top segment with UnitedHealth Group senior vice president and chief health equity officer U. Michael Currie, who emphasized how addressing social determinants of health helps to advance health equity.

  • “You can’t have a conversation about achieving or advancing health equity and best addressing health disparities without having a real appreciation for what these social factors or social determinants of health have on individuals achieving their best possible health.”

Thank you UnitedHealth Group for sponsoring this event.

Updated 32 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.