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Coronavirus and delivery workers

There’s a very obvious answer for this.

Couriers delivering online orders of household essentials have become a lifeline for Houstonians hunkering down at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But a growing number of workers responsible for getting packages to consumers are falling sick, leaving those remaining on the job worried for their lives.

“When I’m walking into work, it’s nerve-wracking,” said a truck driver for FedEx Freight in Cypress who wished to remain anonymous because the worker feared retaliation from the company. “I don’t want to miss work because I’m a single parent, but I’m afraid I’m gonna catch something.”

Package delivery workers have been thrust into the front lines of the global fight against the coronavirus as millions of Americans under stay-at-home orders turn to online shopping to get canned goods, medicine and household supplies. Workers who fulfill these online orders and deliver them say they are risking their lives to ensure consumers’ home shelves are well-stocked.

At least 24 package workers in the Houston area — including 19 Amazon, three UPS and two FedEx workers — have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to internal company communication obtained by the Chronicle, interviews with employees and media reports. COVID-19 is the respiratory illness caused by the new strain of coronavirus.

Representatives of Amazon, FedEx and UPS declined to disclose the number of employee cases, citing company policies and employee privacy concerns. Each of the companies insisted they are taking steps to protect workers.

This story would have been a lot more useful if we had any idea how many total employees we were talking about, so we could compare the rate of infection of this group of people to the Harris County population as a whole. (Which, to be sure, we are undercounting, but it’s the best we can do.) I don’t say this to cast any doubt on the seriousness of the problem or to downplay the concerns of the workers, but because knowing where the virus is more prevalent is valuable and can help with the fight against it. Identifying and isolating localized hot spots is going to be a key part of the next phase of mitigating this pandemic. Everything we can learn that will move that forward is huge.

The glaringly obvious point to make here is that workers like these who have no choice but to be out in public are exactly the people that we need realtime, universal testing for. The scariest thing about this virus is that you can’t tell who has it, and anyone (yourself included) could be out there spreading it without knowing it. But if we can test for it, that goes a long way towards ensuring the safety of the people who cannot socially distance themselves. If you have to show up somewhere to work, you need and deserve to know that everyone else who is there with you is virus-free. The fact that I have to point this out more than a month into this pandemic is just mind-boggling, and as clear a sign of the federal government’s complete unpreparedness and failure to respond that you can get. It’s beyond appalling that the people we are all counting on to keep us fed, healthy, safe, and otherwise taken care of cannot be cared for themselves in this most basic way. I don’t know what else there is to say.

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3 Comments

  1. Brad says:

    Bottomless ignorance/arrogance/petulance at the top of our leadership.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    If you are counting all delivery services, food/grocery delivery, USPS, Amazon, UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, and on and on, that could be a lot of workers in the Houston area. IF that is also including the warehouse workers, pickers and packers, loaders and unloaders, that is a lot of people. So a total of 24 cases is not likely to be a high percentage. We also don’t know if they got sick from their work or elsewhere. Let’s hope that the count is accurate, because, anyone who is ill shouldn’t be out going from house to house.

  3. C.L. says:

    Jason, re: ‘not likely to be a high percentage’… 24 out of how many tested ? 50 (48%) ? 500 (4.8%) ? 5000 (0.48%) ?