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COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, the nation doubles down on cleaning

Justin Ho Mar 10, 2020
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Empty shelves might be an increasingly familiar sight. Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, the nation doubles down on cleaning

Justin Ho Mar 10, 2020
Empty shelves might be an increasingly familiar sight. Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

If you walked into a drugstore looking for hand sanitizer lately, chances are you walked out empty-handed. Nielsen estimates that hand sanitizer sales for the month ending February 29 were almost 130% higher than a year ago. 

With the coronavirus outbreak showing no signs of stopping, governments, businesses and people themselves have found themselves in the middle of a nationwide deep clean.

“I have some rubber gloves in my little bag, just in case,” said Felix Carayon, a subway rider in Manhattan. “I wash my hands a lot more often, especially after the subway.”

New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority said it’s sanitizing its stations every night, and its entire fleet every three days. Public transit systems in Boston, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area also said they’re cleaning more.

Businesses are stepping up their own cleaning efforts, too.

“We’re encouraging our clients to wipe their own mats, providing a lot more wipes across studios in multiple locations,” said Helaine Knapp, founder and CEO of CITYROW, a boutique rowing studio with nine locations around the country.

The company has been cleaning more between classes and during off-hours. It also halted its cancellation fees.

“I think that these are precautionary measures we should be taking as a business,” Knapp said.

An employee at the eyeglass company Warby Parker said they’re sanitizing frames multiple times a day. Airlines are ramping up their overnight cleaning procedures. And regardless of all the shifting store policies right now, employees themselves are making sure their own workplaces are clean.

“I’m very aware of not touching anybody at this point, which is something that in the past might have seemed rude,” said Shawn O’Hale, a clerk at a home supply store in Manhattan.

But people in New York aren’t necessarily acting like they’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Most people are still grabbing subway poles with their bare hands. 

“I have to get from point A to point B, you know?” said Megan Culligan, a subway rider outside a station in Midtown Manhattan. “I have to take the subway. I feel like life still goes on.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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