- Gig workers for food delivery and ride-hailing apps are bracing for the spread of coronavirus.
- Because their jobs require on-demand service to dozens of strangers every day — and don’t provide health insurance or other benefits — contractors are nervous about how an outbreak could impact them.
- Drivers and delivery workers for Uber, Lyft, and Doordash told Business Insider they’re scouring their cars with bleach and cutting back on hours — and that they’re unsure what they’ll do if the outbreak gets worse.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As more work remotely or self-quarantine amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, gig workers for food delivery apps and ride-hailing services continue to work jobs that demand they come into contact with hundreds of people each day.
More than 100 patients across the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and experts warn that a lack of widespread testing could mean the real number of people infected is higher. The disease can spread between people who are up to six feet apart, according to the CDC, and is transmitted through tiny droplets of saliva or mucus.
Concern around the disease has built in recent weeks among gig workers who interact with a different set of strangers every day. Some Uber drivers told Business Insider last week that they were avoiding airport pickups, fearing a heightened risk of infection from people traveling overseas. Others have said they’ve switched from ride-hailing to delivery so they interact with fewer people.
An an attempt to quell fears, companies including Uber, Lyft, and Doordash have issued guidance to their contractors for working as the coronavirus spreads. Contractors are advised to wipe down their delivery vehicles with disinfectants, wash their hands frequently, and stay home if they feel sick.
But gig workers told Business Insider that they’re worried they lack a safety net if they do encounter a sick customer or get sick themselves. As contractors, gig workers are not eligible for health benefits, and companies are generally not liable for risks posed by the job.
Business Insider interviewed contractors about what it’s like to work in the gig economy amid fears of the coronavirus. Many described obsessively sanitizing their cars, cutting down on hours, and exchanging nervous glances with strangers who cough. Others said they’re hoping for the best and maintaining business as usual. Gig workers were granted anonymity in order to speak openly about their situation.
Here’s what they said.
Jay, an Uber driver in Sacramento, California, told Business Insider that he hasn’t changed his habits because of COVID-19, but has had 2 recent instances of passengers with sick relatives or who were coughing in the car. “After drop-off, I rolled all the windows down while going at speed to try to air out whatever he might have been releasing with his coughs,” he said.
Nearly every Uber and Lyft driver Business Insider talked to expressed that they don’t feel like the companies care about them or their well-being as COVID-19 spreads. “We are almost always an afterthought where corporate is concerned. I do not get the impression at all that they care about this as it pertains to driver or rider safety or health,” Jay said.
Nate, an Uber driver in Las Vegas, says he keeps disinfectant and hand sanitizer on hand. “I typically Lysol the car … after I get anyone in the car coughing.”
“My significant other is reluctant to let me work. It’s a common topic of discussion in my rides now, often jokingly, but with a hint of underlying nervousness from all parties,” Nate said.
Several drivers for Uber and Lyft told Business Insider that they had not been contacted by the companies with guidelines, although Uber does have “health and safety guidance” posted online now.
Uber’s website says:
“IF YOU FEEL SICK, STAY AT HOME – If you have a mild illness, respiratory symptoms, or have a fever (38 C or 100.4 F or above), stay home and keep away from others. If your symptoms get worse, call your doctor.
– WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY – Wash your hands with liquid soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to disinfect your hands. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
– COVER YOUR COUGH OR SNEEZE – Use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash, then wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue within reach, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
– CLEAN AND DISINFECT YOUR VEHICLE – Pay special attention to surfaces that you and passengers frequently come in contact with.”
Carlos in Rochester, New York, stopped driving for Uber and Lyft after learning about several COVID-19 cases in nearby Toronto. “My safety and my wife’s and daughter’s safety are more important than the few dollars that I am going to make driving Uber or Lyft,” he said.
Carlos told Business Insider that the only way he’d continue driving is with the “car covered in plastic while I am also wearing a hazmat suit.” DiDi, a ride-hailing service in China, has implemented a measure like this, putting plastic sheets in cars between drivers and passengers.
Yoo, a San Francisco Uber driver, cut his hours significantly, also citing concern for his family’s safety. “This same car I use for Uber is the same car I drop my daughter off at school in,” he said.
Blogger Harry Campbell said that one of the easiest changes drivers can make is to stop picking up passengers at the airport. Yoo and other drivers said that’s what they’ve started doing.
Source: Business Insider, The Rideshare Guy
Many drivers do both ride-hailing and delivery apps, and some are shifting more to delivery to avoid extended contact with passengers, as Campbell predicted.
Drivers in Marietta, Georgia, and Saratoga Springs, New York, told Business Insider that COVID-19 hadn’t changed how they operate so far. They also said DoorDash and UberEats both sent out guidelines about washing hands and keeping cars clean.
The note Grubhub sent out to drivers read:
“We are focused on prioritizing the health and safety of our delivery partners, diners, and restaurant partners. Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we recommend taking the following protective measures:
Practice good hygiene Clean your hands thoroughly and often by using an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
Take care of yourself Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention.
Take precaution when interacting with diners and restaurants Use your insulated delivery bag to transport the diner’s food from the restaurant. We recommend you clean your bag with soap and water and/or disinfectant after you are done delivering for the day. Never touch a customer’s food and be extra aware of following proper hygiene procedures when in restaurants. For diner confidence, we recommend asking the restaurant to tie or seal the bag. If you have visited or had contact with someone who has been to a level 1, 2 or 3 country based on the CDC’s travel guidance, please use your best judgment when interacting with your local Grubhub office, diners, and restaurant staff.
We will continue to monitor the situation closely, but encourage you to stay informed on the latest updates from authorities such as the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) by visiting their websites.”
The delivery driver in Georgia said that he now makes sure to use hand sanitizer after leaving every restaurant. Joanne, in Washington state, said it’s “not worth the risk,” and has stopped driving.