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Legendary financier Michael Milken has been working behind the scenes to persuade executives at online retail giant Amazon.com to deliver coronavirus tests to every American for free, FOX Business has learned.
Milken believes the number of coronavirus tests, which have been in limited supply, will be expanded in the coming weeks and it’s necessary to distribute them widely to the U.S. population. He believes that Amazon, with its massive reach, is the company best equipped to distribute the tests, a necessary step in curtailing the spread of the virus, associates of his confirm to FOX Business.
“I believe we’ll have significant tests in America in the next week or two,” Milken told pollster Frank Luntz in a webcast interview Friday, which has yet to be reported. “Our question is this … when can we ship a test to every person at their house, not just at work? And well Amazon … we asked them … will they deliver them free to everyone?”
An Amazon spokesman had no comment. A spokesman for Milken confirmed the conversation with high-level Amazon officials.
“It is one of hundreds of conversations Mike has had with leading companies as well as government officials, philanthropists, research scientists and others on the front lines responding to COVID-19 … In this case, he spoke with one of the top execs at Amazon about their willingness to deliver tests. To clarify, this was a phone conversation, not a physical visit.”
Heretofore, most people have had to be in a hospital or go to a special drive-through-like facility to get the test. But if people could easily access the tests, it would provide quick real-time information about who is healthy, who can return to work and who should stay home — information critical to reopening the economy, medical experts say.
After a long and sometimes controversial career on Wall Street, Milken has emerged in recent years as one of the nation’s top philanthropists and thought leaders through his Milken Institute think tank. His yearly conference, delayed this year until October because of the pandemic, attracts leaders in business, politics and entertainment. Earlier in the year, President Trump pardoned Milken for alleged crimes he committed during the 1980s takeover craze when he ran the junk bond desk of the now-defunct Drexel Burnham Lambert.
Today, Amazon may be the company best-positioned to help deliver the tests. Perhaps more than any other company in the nation, Amazon has the infrastructure to make quick and efficient deliveries everywhere in America with the company delivering 2.5 billion packages a year, according to a Morgan Stanley estimate, and often making these deliveries in just two days.
As many nonessential brick and mortar companies have closed during the coronavirus pandemic, more people are relying on Amazon for goods. While most companies are forced to at least consider layoffs, Amazon has been looking to hire 75,000 more employees to keep up with demand. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his wealth grow $24 billion since the beginning of the year, around the time the lockdown began.
Bezos also seems to recognize the need for testing. In a letter to shareholders Friday, he wrote ample testing is critical to “both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running.” The company has also begun looking to develop their own coronavirus test, but concedes it is very early in the process.
Critics say the lack of coronavirus tests is widely viewed as one of the Trump administration’s biggest shortcomings in responding to the virus and is seen by many as the sine qua non for reopening the economy since it would give policymakers a handle on the spread of the virus.
A Harvard Global Health Institute study noted, "If we can't be doing at least 500,000 tests a day by May 1, it is hard to see any way we can remain open." Right now, the U.S. is administering 150,000 tests daily.
In a briefing on Friday, National Health Institute Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that testing is critical, but not the only response to be considered.
"Testing is a part, an important part, of a multifaceted way that we are going to control and ultimately end this outbreak," Fauci said. "So please don't anyone interpret it that I'm downplaying testing, but the emphasis that we've been hearing is essentially, 'testing is everything,' and it isn't. It's the kinds of things that we've been doing — the mitigation strategies"—like stay-at-home orders, social distancing—"that are an important part of that."