With Mask Mandate Gone, How Can Uber and Lyft Drivers Reduce Their COVID Risk?

Welcome to Pandemic Problems, an advice column from The Chronicle’s engagement reporters that aims to help Bay Area residents solve their pandemic and post-pandemic conundrums — personal, practical or professional.

As COVID evolves into an endemic issue, we know readers are trying to navigate the “new normal.” Send your questions and issues to [email protected].

Today, The Chronicle’s Kellie Hwang fields a question from a reader who is concerned about the COVID risk to ride-hailing drivers in the Bay Area.

Dear Advice Team:

Drivers can spend several hours a day transporting passengers. Lyft and Uber used to require passengers to wear masks. That mandate has stopped. Passengers now have the option. Many still do, but lots do not. That puts drivers at risk of catching COVID.

I liken the risk to a doctor’s office visit. Doctors have likely been double vaccinated and boosted, and continue to wear a mask. But they ALSO require visiting patients to wear a mask. When I visited a hospital recently for a routine blood test, I was required to double mask. So if doctors and hospitals require masks of patients, but Lyft and Uber do not, that tells me that drivers are at risk of catching COVID.

I recently started driving again. But I double mask and keep as many windows as I can open. Often I can open at least three if my passenger closes theirs. I also carry hand wipes to wipe my hands if I think I need it. Beyond this, what advice would you have for Lyft and Uber drivers?

Dear Reader:

It makes sense that ride-hailing and taxi drivers would be concerned about COVID safety, considering the tight quarters they share with their passengers.

While cases from the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant appear to have peaked in California, they still remain high, and as you noted, masks are no longer mandatory in most places — these days, people are required to wear them mainly in health care settings.

Also, traveling in vehicles can raise your risk of contracting the coronavirus, according to experts contacted for this column.

“The more people one is in contact with in an enclosed space, the more likely it is one will be exposed to and possibly infected,” wrote Art Reingold, a UC Berkeley epidemiologist, in an email — although, he added, “No one can quantify that risk with any precision.”

Abraar Karan, an infectious disease doctor at Stanford, said the close contact nature of being inside a car can be enough to spread the virus if a passenger is contagious.

But that doesn’t mean drivers can’t lower their risk through tried-and-true methods — as UCSF infectious disease expert Peter Chin-Hong calls them, the “ABCs of maximal COVID protection.”

• “A” stands for the air you want to ensure is as clean as possible.

That includes wearing a high quality mask, such as an N95, KN95 or KF94 mask.

“This also means maximizing the ventilation in the car,” Chin-Hong wrote in an email. “Studies have shown that slightly opening the opposite windows to create a wind barrier was most effective if you can’t crack open all the windows.”

Turning on the air conditioning is OK, as long as you aren’t using the recirculated air function.

“Fresh air is a million times better,” Chin-Hong added.

If a passenger is unmasked and doesn’t want their windows open, Chin-Hong said that as long as it’s a shorter trip and the driver is able to open the front windows, it should be a relatively safe situation.

He stressed that passengers should sit in the back, and ideally diagonal from the driver if possible.

• “B” is for boosters and being up to date on your COVID vaccines.

Vaccinations and boosters are “probably the most important thing you can do if you want to lower your chance of infection, and especially if you want to prevent getting seriously ill,” Chin-Hong said.

Reingold also stressed that “the most important precaution is being vaccinated and boosted.”

If you’re a parent, you should also get your children vaccinated so they are protected if you become exposed on the job, Chin-Hong said.

• “C” is for COVID testing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should take a test if you have any COVID symptoms or if it’s been at least five days after a known or suspected close contact to COVID-19. Other reasons to take a test can be found here.

If you test positive, isolate for five days. Find the CDC’s full isolation and quarantine guidelines here.

If you put all of these risk-mitigation strategies in place, experts say you can lower your risk considerably while driving.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Comments

  1. CA taxpayer says

    I would think covid is the last thing these drivers should be wary of – SAFETY SHOULD be their first issue!!!! The creeps and freaks that are now roaming CCA streets, looking for a handout anyway they can get one, scares me – and I’m not picking up strangers in my car!!!

  2. JimNorCal says

    CA doctors are required to wear masks by County authorities who may or may not even be doctors.
    Some doctors may wish to calm frightened patients and some may not be aware of current research. Well designed studies from Denmark, Finland and others show there’s virtually zero benefit to wearing masks.

    The writer’s premise that if doctors wear masks they must be needed? False.

    As intelligent doctors have said since the beginning the safest place is outside in the free air. Second safest is to be inside with the windows open. So … roll down those windows, drivers!
    And keep your immune system strong.

    • It’s been my experience that the doctors and health care professionals all wear masks for the principal purpose of making their patients feel “safe” and encourage them to visit the doctor.

  3. Really??? says

    Don’t worry with the move to demand they are employees their numbers will dwindle.

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