We're going to be hearing a lot of stories in the coming weeks about how industries are facing the COVID-19 pandemic and feeling its vast, unknowable economic impacts. But on the front lines of those impacts will be service-industry and gig-economy workers.
With much of the Bay Area now under a shelter-in-place order for at least three weeks, and with San Francisco's nighttime activity now ground to a complete halt, drivers for Uber and Lyft are going to suffer an immediate loss of wages — though after the initial panic fades, perhaps people will begin Ubering to each others' houses a bit? So long as they're not in high-risk categories for the virus?
On Monday, as The Verge reports, Uber expanded its paid sick leave policy, which now allows for 14 days of paid time off if you are either diagnosed with COVID-19, quarantined because of possible exposure, told to self-isolate by public health officials, or have your Uber account suspended due to public health advice.
And to increase social distancing in ride-hail vehicles, both Lyft and Uber are suspending their carpool options — Lyft is suspending them in all markets, while Uber is only suspending Uber Pool in the U.S. and Canada for now, with more markets possibly to follow.
In a statement to The Verge, Uber's senior VP of Uber Rides and Platform Andrew Macdonald said, "Our goal is to help flatten the curve of community spread in the cities we serve."
There are likely to be vast impacts to these businesses as the pandemic crisis unfolds. One early sign of things to come: This story from February 3 in which Uber suspended the accounts of 240 users in Mexico that had ridden with two drivers who had known contact with a COVID-19 patient. The company later reinstated those accounts.