Uber will start distributing face masks to drivers and delivery workers, focusing first on the cities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The company will begin urging riders to wear face masks as well, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday, the company shipped its first order of masks for drivers in New York City, which is the epicenter of the outbreak in the US, and it expects to receive an order of half a million more in the coming days. In total, Uber has ordered “tens of millions” of face masks, which it expects to distribute to other cities in the coming weeks, Gus Fuldner, Uber’s VP for safety and insurance, said in a blog post.
There has been a shortage of face masks in the US since March. Mask factories are running at double their capacity, and factories that once made shoes, iPhones, and cars are being retooled to make masks. Uber says it is sourcing its masks outside the traditional health care supply chain, though, so as not to take masks away from hospitals with the most need.
Last week, Uber began shipping disinfecting car spray to drivers in hard-hit cities. The company promised to supply drivers and delivery workers with sanitizer in early March. But all of the company’s local hubs, where drivers go for in-person help or a bathroom break, are closed due to the pandemic — leaving drivers confused as to where they can pick up supplies. The answer is direct mail. Drivers can place a request in the app for sanitizer and / or a face mask, and they’ll receive it through the mail free of charge, a spokesperson said.
Uber will send face masks unsolicited to “thousands of active drivers” who first requested disinfectants, the spokesperson added. The company is still working on the process for more broad, long-term distribution, which is not final yet.
Demand for ride-hailing in cities is cratering due to the pandemic. As such, drivers are struggling to find work. Uber has seen a precipitous drop in ridership as a result of the pandemic. The company’s gross bookings in Seattle, a city hit hard by COVID-19, is down by 60 to 70 percent, and Uber is assuming similar declines in other big cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. The virus has cut Uber’s overall business by as much as 50 percent, according to The Information.
The company has said it would provide financial assistance for drivers who have contracted COVID-19 or who have had their accounts suspended or been told to quarantine by public health officials — though some drivers have run into problems receiving aid from the ride-hailing company. The company recently created a new feature in the app to help drivers find outside work.
New York City is offering to hire out-of-work Uber and Lyft drivers, and it’s even promising to reimburse them for their driving expenses. Nonetheless, many drivers have seen their earnings dry up and are seeking unemployment insurance through the recently approved federal stimulus package.