Microsoft, Amazon Advise Staff to Work From Home as Coronavirus Spreads, Facebook Contractor Confirmed Infected

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., technology giants are increasingly urging staff to work from home in an attempt to reduce the risk of infection.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft this week advised Puget Sound and Bay Area employees to work from home until March 25. In the new policy, it recommends staff postpone traveling to its campuses unless it is considered to be "essential for the continuity of Microsoft" and stressed non-essential business travel should be canceled in regions known to contain active COVID-19.

The policy comes after government officials in King County, Washington, urged businesses to "enact measures that allow people who can work from home to do so."

The Washington State Department of Health confirmed 39 positive COVID-19 infections and 10 deaths, with more than 200 people currently under supervision.

"We are recommending all employees who are in a job that can be done from home should do so," Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene wrote in guidance updated yesterday. "Taking these measures will ensure your safety and also make the workplace safer for those that need to be onsite. Please let your manager know that you will be working from home, so all our teams remain well coordinated."

The first case of COVID-19, a respiratory disease that is caused by a new form of coronavirus, was announced in Washington State on January 21. On the global scale, there have now been more than 95,000 infections and 3,200 deaths as a result of the outbreak, which started in China.

Today, Bloomberg reported that a Seattle-based Facebook contractor had tested positive for COVID-19. The social networking firm is now asking employees in the region to work from home, and its Stadium East office space is expected to be closed to staff until early March.

"We've notified our employees and are following the advice of public health officials to prioritize everyone's health and safety," it said in a statement, GeekWire reported.

Microsoft's guidance about working from home follows similar steps released this week by Twitter, which said it was "strongly encouraging" all employees globally to avoid company offices if able.

Amazon confirmed this week that a staffer in Seattle had tested positive for COVID-19 and told The Hill it was now "supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine." Earlier, the firm acknowledged that two of its employees had contracted the novel coronavirus in Italy.

Amazon, too, cited the King County policy for now asking employees to work from home, The Seattle Times reported. "Every team is different and not all work may be conducive to working from home, so please talk with your manager and your team to establish expectations on working remotely," a company email sent to staff late on Wednesday read, the newspaper reported.

In its statement this week, King County officials said the outbreak was at a "critical moment" for the region, and said steps were being taken to reduce the risk of public exposure.

The advisory noted, "We understand these actions will have a tremendous impact on the lives of people in our community. We are making these recommendations in consultation with CDC based on the best information we have currently to protect the public's health."

The Seattle Times reported Microsoft has about 54,000 staffers in Washington state. It noted the fresh guidance would also impact smaller tech companies, including Redfin and Textio.

Jensen Harris, the co-founder of writing-enhancement software firm Textio, tweeted, "As a tech company, we have an enormous privilege to be able to reasonably do our work remotely.

"We are not firefighters, first responders, or people making sure the community can get groceries and supplies. We sit at computers and type and talk. We can do this from anywhere."

COVID-19 - King County
A service worker for King County Metro, sprays Virex II 256, a disinfectant, throughout a metro bus at the King County Metro Atlantic/Central operating base on March 4, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Karen Ducey/Getty