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Coronavirus: Is It Safe to Get Deliveries?

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With more than 50% of the U.S. population living under stay-at-home restrictions, companies that deliver food and household goods are inundated with orders. As they scramble to meet the demand, you may wonder if ordering in puts you or the people making your deliveries at risk.

The Question of Worker Safety

For some workers at least, the answer seems to be yes. The enormous flow of commerce may overwhelm companies’ abilities to protect their employees’ and subcontractors’ personal safety.

Reuters reported that delivery drivers for several companies say their jam-packed routes don’t allow them to follow recommended safety procedures, like stopping to wash their hands.

One driver for Uber and Postmates who showed symptoms of COVID-19 said he couldn’t qualify for paid sick leave without a confirmed diagnosis, but due to the testing shortage getting one proved impossible. He continued to work, Reuters reported.

Some workers for Amazon subcontractors told Reuters that vans and bins aren’t always sanitized between shifts, and they aren’t provided with personal protective gear -- sometimes, they don’t even have hand sanitizer. Amazon requires these things, but in practice individual companies may not be meeting their obligations.

Problems exist at the warehouse level, too. At least nine Amazon facilities have had employees test positive. “We are supporting the individuals, following guidelines from local officials, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of all the employees at our sites,” Amazon said in a written statement. The company has also announced enhanced protective measures to encourage social distancing and hygiene while at work.

Are Packages Safe?

Pair all these issues with a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine that found the virus was viable for up to 24 hours on cardboard and even longer on plastic and stainless steel, and you may be tempted to cancel all your orders. Not so fast, says Joseph Vinetz, MD, a professor of infectious diseases at Yale University.

“Nobody’s gotten this infection anywhere in the world from packages,” he says. “You can detect the virus on cardboard with a molecular test, but that doesn’t mean it can infect you.”

The CDC also says you’re unlikely to contract COVID-19 from surfaces. And the World Health Organization says, “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”

If you’re still nervous, though, do what Vinetz does. “I love Amazon, I go to restaurants and get takeout, I go to the grocery store. I wash my hands, I spritz the outside of my reusable bag with alcohol or wipe it with a wipe, and that’s perfectly fine,” he says. “It’s much more important to stay away from people, keep 6 feet of social distancing. Stay at home.”

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