Venture Capital: (Coronavirus) How Gig Economy Companies Do NOT Flatten the Curve

March 17, 2020 | Latest News, News, Venture Capital

Gig economy workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers are a threat to efforts to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus contagion.

According to Edward Ongweso Jr and Jason Koebler, writing in Vice/Motherboard, gig economy companies are a public health risk. The business models of companies such as Uber (NYSE: UBER) and Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) depend upon workers characterized as independent contractors (not employees). This practice flies under the regulatory radar, and as a result, these hapless workers are generally uninsured, or at best underinsured. They work long hours, regardless of the risk from the coronavirus pandemic – to themselves, or their ride-hailers. (Vice/Motherboard)

Flattening the curve

One way to approach a pandemic like the coronavirus is to at least slow its spread. Therefore, at any given time the available health infrastructure can cater to the (lower) number of infected patients.

Think of the problem by replacing the hospital with an office toilet.

“Your workplace bathroom has only so many stalls,” tweeted Charles Bergquist, director of the public radio science show “Science Friday.” “If everyone decides to go at the same time, there are problems. If the same number of people need to go to the restroom but spread over several hours, it’s all ok.”

Therefore, by slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time, we have, in epidemiology terms, “flattened the curve.”

This is the strategy being employed for the coronavirus by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who have recommended: “Social distancing” (essentially, avoiding other people whenever possible), working from home, and cancellation of events of 50 or more people.

#flattenthecurve on Twitter

Gig: NOT flattening the curve

Unfortunately, gig economy workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers, Grubhub and Seamless delivery drivers, and Instacart shoppers continue to work. They remain in contact with various touchpoints during their work cycle and are mobile, potentially potent carriers of the virus.

“Uber and Lyft are perfectly primed to be a vector for outbreaks as drivers are incentivized by sub-minimum-wages insufficient to last any period of self-quarantine, let alone to seek treatment, and as passengers are incentivized by cheap trips and fears of exposure in public transit,” warn Ongweso Jr and Koebler. “This is incompatible with what should be our prime objective: “flattening the curve” to minimize community transmission through social distance.”

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