Uber wants drivers and riders to wear masks

Uber announces new guidelines in response to COVID-19. The company that prides itself on moving people has been asking people not to move. It’s known for disrupting technology but it introduced a program with the goal of moving people who are offline, outside the app. It got its start as a ride-sharing company but for the moment has stopped sharing rides.

To help protect their workers and passengers, Uber is set to introduce new safety measures that will affect their ride service and the Uber Eats food delivery service starting Monday.

Changes come in the form of face covers or masks being mandatory for all passengers and drivers as of May 18.

In addition to face coverings, Uber says that passengers will not be allowed to ride in the front seat to allow for more distance between passengers and their driver. This will mean one less seat available for passengers in each vehicle. 

UberX vehicles will limit the number of passengers to three. The Uber Pool service that allows people from different households or pick-up locations to share a ride in the same vehicle is unavailable for the time being.

The changes are most likely a response to the drivers’ concerns about getting exposed to COVID-19 on the job. 

Some Uber drivers have said that they were unaware of extra measures like cleaning their vehicles after each passenger pickup, or keeping the windows of their vehicles open while passengers are inside and suggested that putting up plastic dividers between themselves and their passengers would be expensive.

Passengers don’t always exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 even if they’ve tested positive, or take precautions in case they’re carrying the disease. Uber’s message is, “Thank you for not riding with us right now,” along with the hashtag #MoveWhatMatters.

Countries around the world have varying policies on who should wear a mask and when. Medical officers of health generally follow or expand on the advice of the World Health Organization. They suggest that masks should be worn as a way of preventing those who have COVID-19 from spreading it, more as “source control” and not necessarily as a way of protecting themselves from getting the disease. Masks are being recommended for those who are caring for others with the disease, those who are at high risk of contracting it, or those who are unable to practice social distancing. 

Public Health Ontario uses the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines to categorize levels of risk on the job. “As workers’ job duties change or they perform different tasks in the course of their duties, they may move from one exposure risk level to another.”

Not all job types are listed on the website but Uber drivers may have increased risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, as they fit under “transit and delivery drivers, depending on their degree of close contacts with the public.”

As businesses open up there will be an increase in demand for rides and increased exposure. Workplaces are expected to put COVID-19 policies in place to protect their workers as well as their customers.

Another source for increased exposure could be related to Uber Health, a non-emergency medical transportation service that the company launched two years ago in the U.S. They started rolling out the service at the end of last year and it was to be “widely available” at the end of April 2020, according to a press release issued in March.

“Core to delivering on that mission was building a product that enabled healthcare organizations of any kind to request transportation on behalf of patients in need, no matter their circumstances. This includes riders who are often elderly, low-income, and less likely to have the Uber app or a smartphone.”

The service has grown 300 per cent annually since the launch. Over 1000 partners means more contact with patients when driving them to their appointments and back. 

When travellers arriving in Canada were asked to go directly to their homes from the airport to self-quarantine since they were at a higher risk of having been exposed to COVID-19, on their way home many of them would use taxis or ride services like Uber or Lyft. 

As part of their strategy to protect their workers and the public during the coronavirus pandemic the company is working with local public health services 24/7. Uber says they’ve given disinfectant sprays to some of their drivers during the first week of April and the following week they received the first shipment of close to a half a million masks and sent them out to drivers. 

What the World Health Organization (WHO) says about how and when to wear masks  

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird


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