Two employees of Jeff Bezos’ space venture, Blue Origin, test positive for coronavirus

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KEY POINTS
  • Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin confirmed that two more employees in the Seattle-area have tested positive for coronavirus.
  • “Blue Origin’s Human Resources team will remain in close communication with these employees throughout their recovery period to make sure they are getting the care and support they need,” Blue Origin’s head of communications Linda Mills told CNBC.
  • The Seattle region is a hot spot for coronavirus cases in the U.S., with companies such as Boeing and Amazon also reporting employees have tested positive
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Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin confirmed on Monday that two employees at its Seattle-area headquarters tested positive for the coronavirus.

The employees, who are married couple, work at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Washington, and one was last at the company’s office as late as Friday. The company has now had three employees test positive for COVID-19, as Blue Origin confirmed a separate first case on Friday, GeekWire reported. That first employee worked at the company’s rocket factory in Kent, the company said, and was last at the facility on March 26.

“Blue Origin’s Human Resources team will remain in close communication with these employees throughout their recovery period to make sure they are getting the care and support they need from us while they quarantine, recover and seek medical care,” Linda Mills, head of communications at Blue Origin, told CNBC in a statement.

“We have also notified those employees who were in contact with them and have directed them to stay at home for the next 14 days to self-quarantine, and have deep cleaned the areas they visited,” Mills added. “The health and safety of these individuals—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.”

The Seattle region is a hot spot for coronavirus cases in the U.S., with companies such as Boeing and Amazon also reporting employees have tested positive for the virus. About 135 Boeing employees tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday, the company told CNBC.

Blue Origin and its around 2,500-person workforce are not the first in the space industry to see employees test positive for COVID-19. A SpaceX employee at the company’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters tested positive last month, CNBC reported on March 24, and the rocket competitor placed about a dozen employees under protective quarantine.

Blue Origin, like SpaceX, is one of many in the space industry deemed “mission essential” by the Department of Defense. A Pentagon letter allows companies working national security contracts to continue operations even if state governments enforce lockdowns or shelter-in-place orders.

However, that mission essential designation has reportedly proven to be controversial among some of Blue Origin’s employees. The Verge reported last week that several employees were outraged by pressure from Blue Origin leadership to conduct the next test of its space tourism rocket New Shepard. While Blue Origin has national security contracts related to its other programs, New Shepard is a system built to launch people and small research payloads on short trips to the edge of space – a purpose employees told The Verge they thought was not mission essential during the coronavirus crisis.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith wrote to employees on Friday in an email seen by CNBC that the developing crisis means Blue Origin is no longer targeting a date for New Shepard’s next launch. The company is “minimizing the number of people” needed to travel to its facility in West Texas, Smith said, which continues to operate with ongoing rocket engine tests.

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