Making home deliveries safer during outbreaks and pandemics
The news continues to roll in throughout the day: more and more jurisdictions are declaring full quarantine measures in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. Even in places where there are only a small number of people in quarantine, the logistics involved with caring for these people can be daunting.
Many delivery services will likely see an increase in business as people choose to stay in, or are required to stay home because of their recent travel or medical history. These businesses need to be prepared for the possibility that their delivery staff may be exposed to someone who is quarantined or has been exposed to COVID-19 and to develop a plan for how to safely continue operations in these conditions.
Most companies that provide delivery of some type are not likely to have access to Emergency Management specialists, especially at the local level. Those who work for companies like Uber Eats or as contractors in the gig economy are at even more risk because they won’t have any type of guidance or advice about how to safely make deliveries.
Gig economy workers are also have an increased level of risk because their livelihood depends on making deliveries. Many of them are barely making ends meet, and losing the income from deliveries isn’t an option. As a result they are going to feel more pressure to make deliveries, regardless of the possibility of exposure to a contagion like COVID-19.
If you are someone who relies on deliveries to pay your bills, then here are some suggestions to help make things safer for you on your next delivery.
Know the Risks
Companies who make deliveries to residences should start including a question on their order forms about whether someone is currently in quarantine for COVID-19 or any other communicable disease. This should be a mandatory question, however in order to protect people’s privacy they can refuse to answer – in which case they wouldn’t be able to receive the delivery.
That being said, this is a question that is easily side-stepped and relies on people to honestly answer the question. While we would like to think that everyone would be honest about their quarantine status, we’ve seen that people will ignore the quarantine order, so we should expect that some people won’t answer this question honestly. This means that companies and people who rely on making home deliveries need a plan to make sure they are safe if they have to make deliveries during quarantines.
Practice Good Personal Hygiene
The first thing that people have to do is to practice good personal hygiene, the same as they should during influenza season, or any day. This starts with proper hand washing, as often as possible, using soap and hot water whenever possible. When washing your hands, follow these steps:
- Turn on the hot water, as hot as you can stand it;
- Wet your hands with the hot water;
- Put soap on your hands, lather, and scrub all parts of your hands;
- Rub your palms together to lather the soap;
- Scrub your fingers individually, making sure to get every part of each finger;
- Interlace your fingers to make sure you get between your fingers;
- Make sure you scrub the back of your hands as well;
- Scrub under your fingernails by scraping your fingertips gently against your palms;
- Make sure you scrub your hands for at least twenty seconds, if you’re not sure how long that is then you can check out this post from BuzzFeed for songs to sing!
- Dry your hands using a paper towel, not a hand dryer. Hand dryers can spread bacteria and viruses from the air in the bathroom back onto your clean hands.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, for example if you’re making deliveries in a vehicle, then you can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. When using hand sanitizer, follow these steps:
- Squirt a bit of hand sanitizer into the palm of your hand, enough to cover both hands;
- Close the hand sanitizer bottle and put it away with the hand that doesn’t have sanitizer on it;
- Rub your hands together, making sure to cover all of your hands including the palms, fingers, and in between your fingers by interlacing them.
- Continue rubbing until the hand sanitizer is fully absorbed and/or evaporated.
Beyond just washing your hands, you should also practice general good hygiene practices such as:
- Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve or elbow, not your hand;
- Not picking your nose;
- Touching your face as little as possible;
- Staying home if you are ill.
Good hygiene practices are the single most important precaution that everyone can take during an outbreak like COVID-19 to help limit the spread of the virus and help everyone stay healthy.
Work with Common Delivery Locations to Establish Safe Delivery Directions
There are often places where deliveries of food and other items happen several times a day – office buildings are an excellent example of locations where meals are regularly delivered. In these situations, it is definitely worth it to establish safe delivery directions to protect the health and safety of both delivery people and delivery recipients. This could involve a safe intermediary location like a drop box, the use of a barrier like a window, or simply a defined process like the one outlined above.
Practice Social Distancing
If you are making a delivery to someone who is quarantined, or if there is a major outbreak of a disease that is spread through droplets (like influenza or coronaviruses) and you are concerned about your own health, you may want to practice social distancing. This is a way of politely keeping your distance outside of the area in which a virus can spread, for COVID-19, this is officially 1m (3ft) though some research has shown that it may spread up to 2m (6ft) from a symptomatic person.
What does social distancing look like on a delivery?
- When the delivery driver arrives at the destination, the first thing they do is put on a pair of disposable nitrile (or other latex-free) gloves;
- They take the order and knock on the door or ring the apartment;
- Instead of waiting right at the door, they immediately back away from the door to maintain that 1-2m (3-6ft) distance from the person receiving the delivery;
- At an apartment building or office lobby, they should set the food down until the person arrives and greet them while explaining that they are trying to keep their distance because of the outbreak;
- Ask the recipient how they are going to pay, and then set the payment processing device (if applicable) down within reach of the recipient;
- If the person is paying with cash, have them place the cash down in a place where you can reach it, and do the same for them with any change;
- Give them the delivery by placing it down and backing away, making sure to wait for them to check the delivery and make sure the entire order is there;
- After returning to the delivery vehicle, wipe down any payment processing or other devices with an appropriate cleaning solution, making sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Cash can be cleaned by following these instructions;
- Safely remove and dispose of the gloves, making sure to immediately clean your hands using alcohol-based hand sanitizer as described above. In addition, wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you have the opportunity.
Don’t let Fear Win
Truthfully, most people are at low risk for COVID-19 infection, especially if they practice good personal hygiene and take sensible precautions. Of course, the risk for everyone is lower when we all use the same practices and take the same precautions – these are all things we should be doing anyways. You shouldn’t leave this article thinking that a simple delivery is going to get you sick, the odds of that are extremely low. But, if your livelihood depends on being able to make deliveries, sometimes a little piece of mind can go a long way to making your day a little bit easier.