Rideshare Mask Policy Puts Passengers at Risk

Sunday, April 24, 2022

“Let’s move forward, safely together,” Uber tweeted yesterday on the company’s Twitter account while simultaneously announcing they are stepping back on the mandatory masking policy they have implemented throughout the COVID pandemic.

This is in line with other rideshare companies following the footsteps of the Transportation Security Administration, which will no longer enforce the federal mandate requiring masks in all U.S. airports and onboarded aircraft.

And, of course, it was through the transportation industry the virus was able to spread swiftly across the globe back in 2020.

The concern with Uber’s decision, particularly in San Francisco where there is currently an uptick in coronavirus cases, is the presence it and other rideshare companies have within this condensed metropolis.

Since the inception of rideshare companies in 2010, San Francisco Municipal Railway (colloquially known as MUNI) ridership has steadily decreased, while Uber and Lyft have seen ridership increase. More people rely on rideshare companies as a means of transportation than ever before.

Thankfully, the mitigation measures rideshare companies implemented during the pandemic (e.g., mandatory masking, no front seat riders) were rooted in public health and helped curb the spread of COVID-19.

But with those measures out the door, the increased ridership means more opportunities for the virus to spread within the city.

But it is not the number of riders that is merely the issue.

The company serves as a reliable means of transportation for elderly patients through a program known as Uber Health.

This has allowed elders (until now) a safe and reliable means of getting to medical appointments, grocery shopping, completing errands, and attending health or wellness activities during the pandemic.

Indeed, it has served an important part in meeting the needs of elders, but without a mask policy in place, will these older adults be placed at increased risk?

Overwhelming evidence has shown that the risk of hospitalization and death is increased amongst the elderly infected with COVID 19. Yet, there has been no guidance on whether drivers who transport such elders will be required to mask.

This same situation applies to immunocompromised patients who utilize rideshare companies as a means of transportation to treatment centers for dialysis or chemotherapy.

Thus, I ask: What are these companies doing to protect vulnerable people who rely on rideshare companies as means of maintaining their health? How is this moving forward safely?

Interestingly, an industry study from a few years prior found the majority of Uber’s drivers are themselves over the age of 50.

And a quarter of drivers are over the age of 60. Although there is no public data on the health characteristics of rideshare drivers, age is the primary immutable factor in increasing one’s risk for comorbid health conditions.

Thus, more rideshare drivers may be at greater risk for severe COVID-19 than the public is aware of. This last point is particularly personal as my father is an Uber driver.

He is over 65, has diabetes and hypertension, and is currently on immunosuppressive medication.

I worry for him and the unnecessary risk he will carry by transporting unmasked passengers.

It was public health measures and science which allowed San Francisco to be a paragon in fighting the pandemic.

The senseless backsteps rideshare companies are taking have no ground in science and will only lead to an increase in the spread of the virus.

If rideshare companies do not make rational and conscientious decisions, I hope passengers will.

Consider moving forward safely by keeping your mask on and protecting yourself and those transporting you where you need to be.