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

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The increase in demand has led to unique challenges and opportunities for delivery companies and their drivers. Fortunately, there is also increased opportunity for consumer support. There are several ways consumers can show appreciation for delivery services and make deliveries safer for the drivers who help keep our essentials supplied.

Demand spikes for delivery

Demand for delivery items spiked during the pandemic. The average number of daily app downloads for grocery delivery services, like Instacart and Walmart Grocery, made it the fastest-growing app category in 2020, with nearly 41% growth. And while marketing experts expect the category to see a small decline in growth and usage within 2021, grocery app users will still account for 15.5% of all smartphone users.

Even with the expected decline, the increased demand for grocery and restaurant deliveries has caused a spike in demand for drivers. Though overall unemployment has risen sharply due to the pandemic, online job marketplace ZipRecruiter found that food delivery position postings jumped 78% in the first two weeks of April 2020. In March of the same year, Uber driver food deliveries reached a record high. More recently, demand has continued to spike as more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations, making the job less risky.

But there is still risk involved with working outside one’s home during a pandemic — often for longer hours than a typical shift. To address this, 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 companies are even partnering with pharmacies to make vaccines more accessible to drivers. If drivers do get sick, they may be able to receive financial assistance from their employer. Grubhub, for instance, offers a one-time payment equivalent to two weeks worth of earnings to help drivers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 make up for lost wages or pay for medical bills.

Some car insurance companies are also offering assistance to delivery drivers. For example, in Washington state, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and USAA, along with some other companies, have all filed endorsements for extended coverage for delivery drivers within the retail and service operations industries. However, it may be worth connecting 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% more [than normal] if you can afford it.”

Since exchanging cash can be a germ-filled proposition, consider tipping 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 is 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. Drivers may even want to consider wearing two mask layers, with a disposable one underneath and a cloth mask on top, which could help create a more protective seal. The World Health Organization is also a reliable source for advice and information.

Dr. Leann Poston of Invigor Medical adds that it is 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.”