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How freelancers can minimize their coronavirus risk while still working a gig

Instacart shoppper during Coronavirus
An Instacart shopper makes a grocery delivery in Washington, D.C.
(The Washington Post / Getty )

Companies all over the country are implementing plans to go back to work safely following the coronavirus shutdown. Freelancers may want to follow suit.

Whether it involves scouring public surfaces, stocking up on protective gear or retrofitting your workspace, if you want to work safely, you’ll need to take precautions.

“Mundane activities have a risk-reward profile that we never had before,” says Daniel Richards, chief executive of Global Rescue, a crisis response and management firm. “But there are ways of minimizing risks.”

As the nation prepares to go back to some version of normal, companies are creating new procedures to keep both staff and customers safe. For example, Marriott is using electrostatic sprayers to disinfect carpets and curtains and is revamping lobbies to facilitate social distancing. Wonderschool is recommending that all of its daycare centers implement new rules for sterilization and sickness, including daily fever checks for staff and children.

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In addition to sterilizing, the popular Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu is changing seating protocols. The restaurant will leave some booths empty to keep diners at a safe distance from one another.

What should freelancers do?

Some freelancers — virtual assistants, mock jurors and online tutors, for instance — have little risk of infection for themselves or their clients. For them, it’s basically business as usual.

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But ride-hail drivers, cooks, house renters, dog walkers, beauticians and movers can’t help but come into close contact with the general public. Naturally, that increases the chance of being exposed, which calls for new safety procedures for yourself and your customers.

Other types of freelance work are also likely to put you in contact with people or things that could carry germs. However, nearly every job can be made safer by following the recommended protocols in these fields.

Ride hailing

Uber, Lyft and Via drivers may want to require all passengers to wear face masks and submit to temperature screenings before they get in the car. This may require having masks available for riders who don’t have them, as well as a no-touch thermometer. Drivers may also want to wear masks and gloves to ensure they don’t come in contact with infected surfaces.

In normal times, no-touch thermometers cost $30 to $50. Today, they’re selling for closer to $100. Paper masks and plastic gloves cost less than $1 each.

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Whether you want to invest in more costly protective measures, such as putting a barrier between the driver and passenger areas of the car, would likely depend on just how often you use your vehicle for work. If you make a full-time living at it, outfitting your car like a taxi could be worthwhile. However, the more you use your car for personal reasons, the less this makes sense.

Then, too, post-shift cleaning procedures may need an upgrade. Vacuuming seats doesn’t rid them of germs. Soap and water does, but it could also ruin the seats. Richards recommends a UVC wand or UVC light to disinfect surfaces that can’t be cleaned with water or Lysol. UVC light kills most viruses within minutes. However, it’s dangerous for both eyes and skin — be sure to use these tools with caution.

Peerspace allows you to rent out your home or office by the hour to people looking for wedding, photography and special-event locations.

Cooks

Sites such as Cozymeal and Eatwith allow cooks to offer classes and in-home meals for groups, which may become doable again as states and counties relax their restrictions. However, like restaurants, home chefs may want to put more space between seats and impose stricter limits on the number of guests that can be accommodated.

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Since it’s impossible to wear a mask while eating, cooks may want to health-screen their guests. However, if you prohibit anyone with cold or flu symptoms from attending meals in your home, you should adjust your cancellation policies.

Sites typically charge cancellation fees on behalf of cooks to protect them from losing their time and supplies on no-shows. But the sites usually allow the cook to decide how strict to make those rules. In an environment where sick guests can’t be tolerated, you may need to allow last-minute cancellations.

Sterilizing your space, from cooking surfaces to floors, has never been more important. Be aware that one of the main ways coronavirus can be spread is on the soles of your shoes, says Richards.

It’s not unreasonable to ask guests to leave footwear at the door. Also, plan to mop with soap and water after every event.

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Rental site hosts

Hosts with properties listed on rental sites such as Airbnb, Peerspace and Giggster may want to add a cleaning fee sufficient to pay for deep cleaning of their residences before and after the rental.

Since this could be costly and time consuming, adjusting your Airbnb listing to require a minimum stay might be advisable. (Peerspace and Giggster rent homes by the hour for events, usually costing many times more per day than Airbnb.)

If you’re renting just part of your space, or plan to be on site when it’s rented, consider imposing health and social distancing protocols on guests — at least with respect to their contact with you.

Working past retirement age is a growing trend. The collapse of traditional labor markets because of the coronavirus is likely to accelerate it.
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Beauticians and movers

Hairdressers, manicurists, cosmetologists and movers all have similar problems. The nature of the job means they must touch other people or other people’s stuff. To avoid contracting the virus from those people or their possessions, you should wear a mask and gloves. And you may ask your customers to do the same.

In addition to washing your hands frequently, know that your own clothing could hold traces of the virus when you go home. Placing a laundry basket and a change of clothes in your garage can allow you to keep those germs out of your living space. Also, leave your shoes at the door.

Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate all risk. But as more becomes known about this virus, it becomes easier to reduce your risk to a level where it can at least feel safe to work.

Kathy Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent website that reviews money-making opportunities in the gig economy.


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