How can you keep yourself safe from the COVID-19 Coronavirus while delivering food or groceries for companies like Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats, Postmates, Instacart and others? How do you keep the customer and their food safe when you are delivering to them?
I'm writing this to those who have already decided to go forward with doing delivery. I am not going to advocate that you should or shouldn't do so. (Unless you suspect you may have this bug – then stay home. Don't risk spreading it)
There's a stark reality when you are delivering today. Someone at the restaurant or someone you deliver to could have this thing and not know it. It's possible to be contagious without any symptoms. That's what makes this a challenge, too many of us don't know if we have it or not.
Is it possible to even BE safe when delivering for Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats or others, when this is the case? Being in the same space does not mean you are doomed. The important thing here is to understand how the virus is transmitted. Recognize the things you can do to protect yourself and others from that.
Understand this: I am not a public health expert. Nor am I a medical expert. I treat this the same as I do with financial or tax advice: I try to find the best information I can find and assemble it in a way that hopefully is helpful to you as a delivery courier. If you are an expert and if I am missing information or providing incorrect information, I want to hear from you so that I can make sure I'm providing the proper information.
1. Understand How The Virus is Transmitted
The virus has to find its way inside a person for them to be infected. Basically it has to find its way from an infected person and into a point of entry for another person.
Person to Person
According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus is primarily spread through person to person contact. That generally happens either:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
Here's how I understand it. This particular virus cannot exist by itself in the air. If it is airborne, it's because it's encapsulated in a very tiny droplet of liquid or gas as would happen with a cough or sneeze. Generally, gravity is going to take its course, and it's usually more of a concern within six feet of the infected person. This is why the six foot distance in social distancing is so important.
One of the best explanations I found of this kind of transfer came from the Stat website:
The weight of the evidence suggests that the new coronavirus can exist as an aerosol — a physics term meaning a liquid or solid (the virus) suspended in a gas (like air) — only under very limited conditions, and that this transmission route is not driving the pandemic. But “limited” conditions does not mean “no” conditionsStat: The new coronvirus can likely remain airborne for some time. That doesn't mean we're doomed.
Through Contact with contaminated surfaces.
According to the Center for Disease Control:
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.CDC Website – how the virus spreads.
In other words, the possiblity of transmitting the virus through contact with surfaces is much lower than through person to person contact. And even then, the virus still has to find its way into your body. It can't be absorbed by simply being on your skin. It's not as likely, but it is a possibility.
What does this mean to us?
The main risk of transmission is through close contact. Casual transfer – either through droplets suspended in air or through contact with surfaces, is thought to be extremely limited. However, the potential is there. Our job is to reduce or eliminate that potential as much as possible.
2. Keep your distance.
The highest risk is in close and personal contact with those who are infected. Avoid prolonged contact completely. Avoid short term contact as much as possible. Keep as great a distance from others as possible when contact is necessary.
This is your greatest protection from person to person transmission. As the Stat article mentioned, the potential for transmission by air is very limited. A distance of six feet or more from others limits this possibility further.
3. Control the surfaces you can control
Wash your hands
It starts with your hands. Wash them. Often. As often as possible. A good 20 second wash with soap and hot water is always the best thing. I take every opportunity possible at restaurants to utilize their restroom so I can wash up.
What about hand sanitizer? My first response would be, don't let hand sanitizer be a replacement for good handwashing. It's nowhere near as effective, and generally doesn't work if your hands aren't already really clean. In the absence of washing hands, sanitizer may be better than nothing at all. It is only effective if you allow the alcohol to do its job. The CDC says to apply the appropriate amount and ” rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.” If you wipe your hands or dry them off before the sanitizer dries itself, you interrup the process and render the sanitizer useless.
Hand sanitizer can be hard to find, but I'm noticing it's been easier to find lately. You can search for it here on Amazon (affiliate link) Doordash has been making hand sanitizer available to their Dashers, though they've limited the scope of the availability to more highly impacted areas.
Keep your own surfaces clean
Regularly disinfect the surfaces you come in contact with. Anything on your car that you touch needs to be wiped down regularly (steering wheel, knobs, handles, stereo, seat belt buckles). Regularly disinfect your catering bags. Constantly clean the surfaces of your phone.
I was able to find a four pack on Amazon of disinfectant wipes. They're definitely hard to come by but they're also restocking as often as possible, and I found that by refreshing my search every hour I was able to get some. You can use disinfectant spray and paper towels if available. My wife was a lab tech for years and she said their best go to was a bleach and water solution. Just find a way to keep all surfaces clean.
If you think you've touched any surfaces that could potentially be contaminated and then touched any of the surfaces in your vehicle or your delivery bags or your phone, that's a good time to clean them again. Just to be safe.
4. Avoid direct contact with surfaces you can't control.
The Stat website reports that some studies are indicating the coronavirus can remain active on some surfaces for as long as 72 hours. Slick and solid surfaces like stainless steel and plastic are some of the worst.
Where do we find both of those a lot? Restaurants. And door handles. And faucets.
Sometimes contact just has to happen. We have to grab handles to open doors. And then we have to handle the packages of food (often in plastic bags). In those cases, you can still avoid making that contact direct.
Once you've washed your hands, avoid touching the faucet handles or restroom doors whenever possible. If you do have to touch them, find a paper towell or tissue and let them create a barrier between your hand and that surface. Properly dispose of the tissue or towell afterwards, making sure to avoid touching the portion of it that came in contact with other surfaces.
What about gloves?
Should you use gloves?
I think gloves often create a false sense of security. The thing is, once you have contacted a contaminated surface with your glove, that glove no longer is useful. How many times do you see food handlers touch money and then move to handling food? The glove is useless now.
You also have to remember that gloves provide no more protection than your skin. Touching your eyes or nose while wearing gloves is just as bad an idea as doing so with your skin. You can transfer a virus with gloves about as easily as you can with your un-gloved skin.
There is one benefit to wearing gloves. They can serve as a barrier between you and potentially contaminated surfaces. When handwashing is not an immediate option, wearing and being able to dispose of a glove may be a better alternative. Understand that once the glove makes contact with a potentially infected surface, the glove is no longer useful and must be properly disposed of.
You can search here for food handling gloves on Amazon. (Affiliate link)
If you wear gloves, you need to know how to remove them properly. If when taking the gloves off you touch the contaminated surface, you've entirely defeated the purpose of wearing them in the first place. I found this video below from UCLA to be helpful when it comes to proper removal procedure.
Using fresh tissues or paper towels as a barrier can be just as effective as gloves. Even with those, make sure not to defeat the purpose by touching infected surfaces.
5. Don't Touch your face.
All of the other stuff is defending from you coming in contact with the virus. It's all about preventing those little buggers from getting close to you in the first place. But even if you come in contact with one, you're fine as long as it doesn't find its way inside you. Your skin is a fantastic protection against that.
Your last line of defense is not contacting your face.
That's not easy, I know. Tell me not to touch my face and all of a sudden I'm noticing an itch in the corner of my eye or my nose. I've heard some say that the greatest effectiveness of using a mask or gloves is more about the deterrent to touching your face. I don't know how reliable that is. I've seriously considered wearing my wrap around sunglasses just for that reason. Or maybe I should try this from an old Coca-Cola ad?
Putting this to work in a delivery setting.
If you are good at keeping your own environment clean, there are really only two areas of risk on a delivery:
- Picking up food at the restaurant
- Dropping food off with the customer.
Picking food up.
I have seen some thoughtful measures by many restaurants. One restaurant keeps their door closed and has a sign asking us to hold up our order information for the person inside to see. They see it, go get the food, then stick the food out the door. There is little or no contact that way. I've heard of others that have numbered tables spread out through the dining area. If food is not ready, couriers can wait at those designated tables.
Avoid waiting in line
Do not stand in line with other couriers. If there is no other option, maintain a proper distance. If there is no such option, the best course of action may be to move on to the next delivery.
Avoid a direct handoff of the food.
Instead of letting restaurant staff hand the food directly to you, the best practice is to let them set the food out on a table or counter. When they've stepped away, you can pick up the food.
Avoid contacting the same surface as the restaurant staff.
This is especially true when the food is packaged in plastic. Really the only possible point of contamination on that packaging is where it's been contacted by the restaurant employee. Even if they're wearing gloves, your question becomes do you trust how well they've been using (see the points above about gloves). This may be the best time to utilize a glove or a tissue to create a barrier when handling the package. If you don't have that option, take note of where on the packaging it's been handled. For example, I've seen where the package is held by one person at the top of the handles of the bag, so the next person will grasp lower than the handles.
Bring your own pen.
Some restaurants still ask you to sign a receipt saying you've picked it up. Don't use their pen, it's been used by everyone else. Keep your own pen, keep it sanitized, and use that if you have to sign off.
Delivering the food
I would say try to utilize the no contact delivery option whenever and wherever possible. There are times however that the customer will come out even if no-contact was the arrangement.
I have taken to texting the customer while enroute. Voice to text is a wonderful technology! I'll say something like:
Hi. This is Ron, your driver for Uber Eats (or Grubhub or Doordash or whomever). I have your food and am on my way. I want to make this delivery as safe as possible for both of us. Where is the best spot that I can set the food when I arrive, and then I can notify you so that you can pick it up?
I have found that many times the customer didn't realize or forgot that they requested no-contact. This kind of communication helps get you both on the same page.
Use your pen for pushing buttons
Remember that pen I said to keep with you for if you have to sign? How many times do you have to use a call box or press buttons on the elevator. Use your pen for that. You can always disinfect it later.
Avoid direct contact.
Many customers are just accustomed to coming out and meeting you. Some may not be comfortable with leaving the food set down. You may not be able to avoid a direct hand off. If so, you can at least do your best to avoid any direct contact.
Often what I do in that situation is use my catering bag as a buffer. I'll open the lid to the bag, and then hold the bag out at arms length (and hold it in a place that is at arms length from the customer so they have to reach out). That helps maintain that 6 food distance. I'll hold it with my hands under the bag and in such a way that the customer can take the food directly out of the bag. And then I'm wiping the bag down when it's all said and done.
Use common sense
I can't tell you whether you should or shouldn't do deliveries. I said this earlier but it's worth repeating. This is written as things to think about if you've made the decision already that you will continue to deliver during this pandemic.
The biggest rule of thumb is, avoid contact. Keep your distance. Keep clean. Make sure all the surfaces you control are clean and protect yourself from the surfaces you cannot control.
The bottom line is, just pay attention to what you're doing. Keep distant, keep clean, and keep safe.
And if you think you might have something, stay home. I know I said that already but it's worth repeating.
Be safe. For you and for me.