Amazon Alexa users in the US can now use the voice assistant as a first step towards diagnosing cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Amazon has announced. Queries such as “Alexa, what do I do if I think I have coronavirus?” or “Alexa, what do I do if I think I have COVID-19?” will prompt the voice assistant to ask about your symptoms, travel history, and possible exposure to the virus. It will then offer advice based on official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information.
The functionality is a step up from the information Alexa was offering previously. Earlier this month, Vox reported that Alexa would list off simple facts. Amazon’s announcement follows a similar move from Apple, whose Siri voice assistant has also been updated to offer diagnosis advice.
As well as offering advice on symptoms, Alexa can now also be asked to sing a song for 20 seconds to help you know when you’ve properly washed your hands. Alexa’s subpar singing voice means we can’t see people using the feature much for themselves, but it might motivate children. Amazon says the feature is available in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, the UK, and the US. CNET reports that Google has also added a similar hand-washing timer to its voice assistant.
More generally, Amazon has also kept its fulfillment centers running, which has helped populations to follow shelter-at-home mandates. However, in some cases concerns have been raised about how it’s gone about this. Workers in the company’s warehouses, which are still operating to fulfill orders, including the delivery of COVID-19 test kits in the UK, have reported that management hasn’t been proactively informing them when colleagues have tested positive for the disease. Instead, they’ve often been hearing about them through rumors. Amazon has also been criticized for not providing enough cleaning supplies in its warehouses, despite assuring workers that it has ramped up its cleaning procedures.