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Food Delivery Workers Told Us About Their ‘Indescribable Fear’ During the Coronavirus Outbreak

While government officials have shut down restaurants across the country, delivery workers are acting as a lifeline for the food service economy. But the work puts couriers — comprised largely of independent contractors without access to employer-sponsored health insurance or paid sick leave — at a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection. “The experience is indescribable…

Food Delivery Workers Told Us About Their ‘Indescribable Fear’ During the Coronavirus Outbreak

While government officials have shut down restaurants across the country, delivery workers are acting as a lifeline for the food service economy.

But the work puts couriers — comprised largely of independent contractors without access to employer-sponsored health insurance or paid sick leave — at a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection.

“The experience is indescribable fear,” said Ali, a Chinese-American food delivery worker in New York City. He would only provide his surname and spoke to VICE News through a translator. “I was really worried while making deliveries.”

Ali, who has delivered food for city restaurants for ten years, continued to work after COVID-19 began spreading through the city. His restaurant provided gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer, but he still worried about exposure.

Tips from customers increased over the past few weeks, but only slightly. Buildings he served stopped letting him inside to hand off the food.

And on Tuesday, the restaurant where he works closed. Ali, like most gig economy workers, has no access to paid time off.

“Many of us are not able to work right now,” he said.

The coronavirus threat has pushed the tech companies that make delivery apps — and the governments that regulate them — to make emergency changes to keep deliveries flowing.

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New York, which closed restaurants and bars through April 15, still allows take-out and delivery services to continue. Under pressure from other city officials, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio temporarily halted police enforcement on the city’s ban on motorized bicycles commonly used by delivery workers.

The move came after City Council members wrote to the mayor requesting he ask police to stop confiscating bikes and imposing fines, which can reach $500.

During the coronavirus pandemic, some of the largest food delivery companies altered benefits offered to couriers to provide some paid sick leave, fund certain health-related expenses, and mandated new delivery service options that can help reduce contact to other people. Some are eliminating fees charged to restaurants for using their services and providing cleaning supplies.

Postmates changed its platform to reduce person-to-person contact by allowing customers to digitally request their food be dropped off outside their door. DoorDash now makes no-contact delivery its default option. For grocery deliveries, Instacart started offering a similar option this month. Customers can also ask to meet outdoors so workers can reduce trips into buildings.

Some workers diagnosed with the virus now have access to a form of paid sick leave. DoorDash announced that the company would provide workers diagnosed with COVID-19 with two weeks of financial assistance, so long as they have been registered couriers for the past 60 days and made at least 30 deliveries in the past month.

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