Supporting delivery drivers during the pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made terms like “shelter in place” and “essential workers” part of our everyday language. It’s also highlighted deliveries as a vital service, since having food, medicine and other necessities delivered can be the only way homebound or quarantined people can get them.

The increase in demand has led to unique challenges and opportunities for delivery companies and their drivers.

Read on to discover the risks these essential drivers face, how consumers are stepping up to show their appreciation and how we can all support them.

Demand spikes for delivery

Demand for delivery items has spiked during the pandemic. The average number of daily app downloads for grocery delivery services Instacart and Walmart Grocery increased 218 percent and 160 percent, respectively, on March 15 compared with their average daily downloads in February, according to Apptopia.

This increased demand for grocery and restaurant deliveries has caused a spike in demand for drivers. Though overall unemployment has risen sharply, online job marketplace ZipRecruiter found that food delivery position postings jumped 78 percent in the first two weeks of April 2020.

Because working outside one’s home during a pandemic — often for longer hours than a typical shift — comes with increased risk, some companies, including Uber and Uber Eats, Postmates and Instacart, have implemented emergency assistance policies and resources for their independent contractors. Efforts include setting contact-free delivery protocols (for example, the driver leaves the items outside without seeing the customer), providing health and safety supplies like hand sanitizer and wipes, establishing relief funds for impacted workers and providing partial pay to workers diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Some car insurance companies are also offering assistance to delivery drivers. Allstate, American Family, Liberty Mutual, CSAA Insurance Group (a AAA insurer), MetLife and Progressive have all announced that, for a limited time, they will expand coverage for personal auto insurance customers temporarily delivering essentials. Normally, using your personal vehicle for commercial use requires additional coverage (at an increased cost). It’s smart, however, to connect directly with your insurance company or agent to confirm you are appropriately covered.

How consumers can support delivery drivers

Feel-good stories of families making sidewalk chalk drawings and yard signs thanking delivery drivers and grocery workers abound. People are also getting creative about practical ways to support essential workers.

Candice Cook Irvin of Dallas places a box of bottled water, canned sodas and bags of popcorn with a sign inviting essential workers to take what they want by her door.

“I do this every year at Christmas when they work longer hours. (That time) is similar to now,” she says. “I am thankful they are working and keeping things running.”

Likewise, every day since mid-March, Brittany Van Rensburg, a Sandy Springs, Georgia-based mother, puts out a box of assorted snacks, as well as wrapped toilet paper, paper towels and even disposable gloves for delivery drivers.

The gesture, she says, has become a teaching opportunity for her two daughters. “I’ve told them, ‘they’re working really hard to bring us things so that we don’t have to go out, so we’re giving them some treats,’” Van Rensburg says. “They work so hard, so I want to make sure they feel taken care of and know we appreciate them.”

In an April MarketWatch article, columnist Quentin Fottrell recommended consumers amp up their generosity on gratuities. He writes, “My recommendation: tip service-industry workers 5 percent more (than normal) if you can afford it.”

Since exchanging cash can be a germ-filled proposition, plan to tip via the ordering app or other electronic means to minimize potential contamination.

How delivery drivers can protect themselves

The decision to take on the extra risk of making deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic is a personal one.

Experts note that it’s important to stay apprised of and follow all CDC guidelines specifically designed for delivery drivers. These include wearing a mask, not touching your face, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your vehicle and limiting contact with others during a delivery. The World Health Organization is also a reliable source for advice and information.

Dr. Leann Poston of Invigor Medical adds that it’s a good idea for delivery drivers to carry disposable toothpicks to push a doorbell to avoid touching it and to “minimize the number of personal items in your vehicle that you might touch after making a delivery.”

Overall healthy practices are also vital for those drivers who are out working in the community. “This is a good time to do what you can to generally support your immune system. Eat healthfully. Get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of water,” says James Cobb, a registered nurse and former delivery driver based in Midland, Texas. “You want to make sure your immune system is in good shape to combat whatever it encounters.”