(Reuters) – Eric Cohn used to wear a respirator mask, goggles and gloves only to protect against mold and asbestos as he restored homes in Tucson, Arizona. Now he dons the same gear in his new job – shopping for quarantined customers.
“People ask me where I get this mask every day,” the 34-year-old said. “They say: you look good! I say I’m not trying to look good. I’m trying to be safe.”
With over 90% of the U.S. population under orders to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Cohn is among a new class of front-line workers delivering food to people’s houses.
These workers risk their own health every time they touch doors to enter supermarkets and restaurants, or approach homes where someone inside could be sick. But – with a record 10 million Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March – many feel they have little choice if they want to pay their bills.
Cohn said he often feels vulnerable in the supermarket checkout line as other customers get closer to him than the recommended 6 feet (1.8 meters). Once safely back in his car, he disinfects his gloved hands, steering wheel, door handles and phone. He often works 14 hours with a goal of making $200 a day.
“If I didn’t have my own PPE, I don’t know if I would be OK with doing this,” he said, referring to personal protective equipment.
Concerns about staff safety led a family in New York’s Brooklyn neighborhood to decide to close their three restaurants. Last week, Ix (pronounced “eesh”) made its last free deliveries of Guatemalan food to police, firefighters, doctors and nurses.
“This was our baby. It was the dream come true. It’s hard to say goodbye to that,” said Ana Prince, one of the owners of Ix, which opened over three years ago.
“I feel like I want to cry because you never want to see your business closing,” she said. “But everyone is healthy and we don’t want them to get sick. It could get worse. So for the health of everybody, we made the decision (to close), but it wasn’t easy at all,” said Prince.
With restaurants closing and so many people ordering food from their homes, many Americans have found delivery slots at grocery stores evaporating.
Some providers have tried to get around that by going direct to the consumer.
In Lodi, Ohio, farmers have created a website offering weekly deliveries of vegetables, meats, cheeses and other fresh items.
“It’s nice for us using the online order forms,” said Jimmy Myers, 33, one of the owners of Front 9 Farm. “We know that everything we harvest is going to be sold. There’s very little waste… We sell out of eggs within about two hours of loading the order form.”
In California, Jordyn Kastlunger, who fishes commercially with her father Martin Kastlunger, sometimes sells the catches at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market in San Diego. About 300 people recently lined up to buy fish at the market, standing on tape markers 6 feet apart. Police later asked them to increase the spacing to 12 feet.
“My dad fishes for a variety of things so the only thing that’s really been impacted is crab, since processors don’t have as much bait to give,” Kastlunger said. “We’ve been doing OK. It’s definitely slower and harder.”
(Reporting by Cheney Orr in Tucson, Arizona; Bing Gaun in San Diego; Dane Rhys in Akron, Ohio and Anna Watts in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)