You’ve probably seen the news: the coronavirus is out, it seems pretty contagious, and people are dying from it. But how worried should drivers be? Senior RSG contributor Jay Cradeur breaks down what you need to know about the coronavirus, how it’s affecting drivers, what Uber and Lyft are doing about it – and how to protect yourself.
I was in Bangkok, Thailand when I first started to hear about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s called now.
I began to notice many of the Thai people wear protective face masks as a normal part of their daily routine.
The air quality in Bangkok can be very poor so locals tend to wear the mask to keep particulates out of their respiratory system.
I didn’t worry until my good and well-informed friend who came to visit me from Phuket, Thailand, told me I might get stopped and evaluated at the San Francisco airport when I got back home.
On my way back to the United States, I had a 4-hour layover in the Hong Kong airport. Virtually all the Asian passengers I saw were wearing protective masks.
At this point, feeling exhausted and frustrated after missing my original flight out of Thailand, I began to worry about being quarantined for 14 days.
As it turned out, I landed, went through customs, and walked out into the cool and brisk air of San Francisco. Phew!
- Worried about the coronavirus? Stay up to date on all the verified latest here
- Don’t want to drive? Try these gig jobs instead
- Make sure to have hand sanitizer and wipes in your car
Practical Statistics on the Coronavirus
Coronavirus is a virus that originated in an animal. While it originated from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person, apparently through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
As of this writing (February 11), over 40,100 people have been reported sick. Over 1,000 have died, with all but two of those deaths in China.
Therefore, doing the math, approximately 2 out of every 100 people who get sick actually die.
When I heard this number, I immediately began to realize this virus is not a death warrant. It is similar to the flu and, like most cases of flu, the very young and the very old are the most susceptible to die from the illness.
To put this into greater perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the 2019-2020 flu virus has caused roughly 12,000 to 30,000 deaths.
This map shows where cases have been detected:
To get very thorough and complete and up to date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Airport Policies for the Coronavirus
The coronavirus spreads quickly. Therefore, the government has put some strict policies in place.
Since the great majority of cases are in China, travel to and from China has been curtailed.
Above is one travel warning: Don’t fly into China’s contaminated regions. Here is another warning:
Those foreign nationals who are in China have to stay in China for the time being. American citizens returning from China must go through a health screening upon arriving in the US.
Therefore, thinking that you and I may pick up someone from the airport who is infected with the virus is a false idea.
What Can Drivers Do About the Coronavirus?
Hopefully, by this point in the article, you are not nearly as panicked about this virus as you were at the beginning.
However, it seems everywhere you look there are signs that we are experiencing the worst plague of our generation.
Luckily, as mentioned above, the coronavirus has not reached plague- or even flu-like severity. Don’t fall into the hype and start discriminating against Uber or Lyft passengers.
However, there are ways you can protect yourself and feel confident you will not encounter the coronavirus.
I have four suggestions for Uber drivers who want to avoid the coronavirus: first, know the facts. This article has provided you with what you need to know and a link if you want to learn more.
Second, if you are really worried about getting infected from your passengers, then don’t drive. This is extreme but we’re in customer service and people are a part of the business – if you wanted to limit your exposure, you could also sign up for delivery service.
Delivering food, for example, keeps your contact with humans to a minimum.
Third, I suggest you avoid conversations about the coronavirus. This past weekend, I mentioned to a few passengers that I was in Thailand in January and a few of them became noticeably impacted.
They did not demand to get out of my car as I don’t have any symptoms, but the panic of this thing has gripped just about everyone.
Don’t talk about it. Don’t spread false rumors.
Finally, practice good hygiene. Take the time to wash your hands before you eat. As drivers, we do interact with many people and oftentimes we handle their luggage.
This is a good policy with or without the virus: wash your hands.
Some items you can keep on hand in your car:
- Latex gloves
- Paper towels
- Disinfecting wipes
- Hand sanitizer (for you and your passengers)
What You Should Not Be Doing
Science writer David Quammen who has written one of the definitive books on the topic of animal born viruses titled Spillover said on Fresh Air last week:
“Being educated and understanding it and being ready to respond and support government response is very useful. Panicking and putting on your surgical mask every time you go on a subway ride, an airplane, is not nearly as useful.”
On Sunday, I saw one driver at the airport drive by and he was wearing a mask. I wonder how his passengers felt getting into his car.
Personally, as a passenger, I would have felt awkward and I would have been worried that the driver thought he might be contagious.
The expert I quoted above said that the masks were very good if you are sick and you want to prevent the spread of the virus. With a mask, when you cough, the particulates are trapped in the mask.
However, he said, the masks are not very effective at prevention. David Quammen said he does not wear a mask.
Another thing you should not do is avoid passengers because they look Asian. This is out and out discrimination.
As I have shared, anyone coming from China will have been examined and in some cases quarantined.
Ignorance drives discrimination. Don’t be ignorant.
Where Are Uber and Lyft?
As of right now, neither Uber nor Lyft have provided any guidance for drivers on this very pertinent topic.
We have read about drivers being deactivated if a customer has complained about being discriminated against.
However, I feel it is on Uber and Lyft to bring some rational thinking and guidance to calm a potentially very inflammatory situation.
The coronavirus is real. However, only 2.2% (according to the figures we have) actually die from the virus.
The majority of the illness and the deaths are in China. Travel to and from China has been curtailed so our country is not getting flooded with infected people. These are the facts. There is no need to panic.
Wash your hands. Be aware of your conversations. Respect all people. Don’t do something stupid that will hurt others and get you deactivated.
Judging by all that I have read, I am going to continue driving people. I am not going to wear a mask. I am going to pick up all of my passengers.
I am going to enjoy my day and be grateful I am not in a 14-day quarantine situation in China. Be safe out there.
Drivers, what are your thoughts about being a rideshare driver and the coronavirus? Does it worry you?
-Jay @ RSG
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