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Three employees at Blue Origin test positive for COVID-19 after workers voice concern over test launch

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The company says it has done a deep cleaning of the areas visited by the employees

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
Image: Blue Origin

Three Blue Origin employees have now tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington, according to emails from the company seen by The Verge. The cases, first reported by CNBC and GeekWire, were just announced over the weekend, days after Blue Origin management pressured employees to conduct an upcoming test launch of the company’s New Shepard rocket during a meeting.

“Over the weekend, we unfortunately had two more Blue Origin employees test positive for the COVID-19 virus,” Mary Plunkett, the senior director of organizational development at Blue Origin, wrote in an email, referencing another employee who had been confirmed on Friday. The two new confirmed cases are a married couple who work at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Washington. One was last in the office as early as Friday, April 3rd, while the other had last been in the office on March 27th, according to an email sent to employees on Sunday.

Blue Origin says its human resources team will keep in contact with the employees, and the company has conducted a “thorough deep cleaning” of the places visited by the individuals. The company stressed to employees that they should stay home if they are sick. An email sent out on Friday told employees: “As a reminder, public health officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider being in the same indoor environment, such as a conference room or factory, as a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 as being a low risk for infection.”

The news of the cases comes after The Verge revealed that employees at Blue Origin have raised concerns about conducting a test launch of the company’s New Shepard rocket, designed to take paying customers to the edge of space and back. Conducting the test would require transporting employees from Washington to rural Texas. In a meeting with employees, Blue Origin management suggested that there might be employment repercussions if people didn’t travel for the launch. In response to The Verge’s report, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told employees in an email that the company would, in fact, be hiring amid the pandemic and not conducting layoffs.