How to Stay Safe While Taking an Uber or Lyft, According to Experts

Photo credit: Thomas Tolstrup - Getty Images
Photo credit: Thomas Tolstrup – Getty Images

From Prevention

  • This week, both Lyft and Uber announced new methods of making their transportation services safer for drivers and riders.

  • Lyft will provide vehicle partitions to all of its drivers, while Uber is stocking up some drivers with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.

  • Medical scholars say all activities come with some risk these days, but one said she recently took a rideshare to the hospital and “didn’t worry about it.”

It’s understandable that you’re probably a little more nervous these days about doing formerly normal stuff, like swimming in a public pool, go to the hair salon, or use a rideshare service. And, while there are risks associated with doing pretty much anything outside of your home, services like Uber and Lyft are trying to make the experience as safe as possible for you.

Case in point: Lyft just announced that the company is providing “high-quality, easy-to-install” vehicle partitions to all of its drivers. The company says in a press release that it tested these out with “highly active drivers” in Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver, and then decided to expand to everyone. A Lyft spokesperson told that highly active drivers in select regions will receive the semi-rigid polycarbonate partitions free of charge, while other drivers can get them for less than $50 through the Lyft Store, an online shop where drivers have access to affordable PPE, cleaning supplies, and face masks.

Uber also recently announced that it’s providing Clorox Disinfecting Wipes to drivers and riders. If your driver has them, you’ll get a notification in the app before your ride, and you can ask your driver for one, the company says in a press release. (Uber specifically recommends that riders wipe down potential “hotspots” like seat belt buckles, door handles, and window buttons.)

This is all in addition to safety measure the services have already put in place, like having drivers wear masks and requesting that you do the same, asking you to wash your hands before you hop in the vehicle, having you sit in the backseat, opening windows for additional airflow, and pausing pooled and shared rides.

Of course, this raises a huge question: Is it safe to use a rideshare right now?

So, is it safe to take an Uber or Lyft these days?

First, it’s important to cover the basics of COVID-19 transmission. While you probably have it memorized by now, it never hurts to recap this. COVID-19 is thought to mostly spread between people through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those droplets can infect you, too, if they land in your nose, mouth, or eyes, or are breathed in to your lungs. The CDC says it’s also possible to contract the virus by touching an infected surface and then putting your hands in your nose, mouth, or eyes, but the organization says this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

With that said, it’s also important to understand that most things these days come with some level of risk of contracting COVID-19, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Just know this: He feels comfortable using a rideshare under the right conditions. “I took a rideshare to the hospital today and I didn’t worry about it,” Dr. Adalja says.

The partitions, when vehicles have them, aren’t perfect—they have inevitable gaps near the armrest and doors—but they likely offer some level of protection, says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Nothing is perfect out there, but if the driver is wearing a mask, you’re wearing a mask, and there’s a partition, that’s great,” he says. “You can open up a back window and let some air flow in—that can also help.”

As for the Clorox wipes, Dr. Adalja says it “makes it easier and more convenient” for people to sanitize surfaces. “Although the CDC has downplayed the role of inanimate surfaces in transmission, it’s not zero,” Dr. Schaffner says. “Many people who are very careful would like to use sanitizing wipes. It’s reassuring.”

Keeping tabs on what’s happening in your area is also an important safety consideration, Dr. Schaffner says. If there aren’t many cases in your area, there’s less of a risk to you than if you’re in a current COVID-19 hotspot.

If you’re interested in taking a rideshare, Dr. Adalja recommends doing your best to follow the basic guidelines of COVID-19 prevention: Don’t touch your face, wash your hands when you can, and wear a face covering. While you’re at it, enjoy your ride.

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