- Uber plans to implement a new policy by the end of the month that will require some customers to verify they are wearing a mask before they can request a ride.
- Passengers will be prompted to take a selfie while wearing a mask only if their most-previous driver reported them for not wearing a mask on that ride.
- Some drivers have applauded Uber for listening to their requests and taking their safety into account, but others online have said the new policy doesn’t go far enough because passengers are only held accountable after the fact.
- Both passengers and drivers can cancel rides without penalty if they report that the other person is not wearing a mask, and Uber has said that if a customer repeatedly violates the mask policy, their account could be deactivated.
Uber’s New Mask Selfie Policy
Uber is preparing to roll out a new feature by the end of the month aimed at protecting drivers by preventing passengers from getting into their vehicle without a mask.
To enforce Uber’s “no mask, no ride” policy that it implemented on May 18, some users will be required to take a selfie while wearing a mask before being able to use the app.
The rule won’t apply to everyone, though. Customers will only be asked to take such photos if a driver reports that they are not wearing a mask. From there, they’ll need to take the picture before being able to request a new ride. Both riders and drivers are currently allowed to cancel a trip without penalty if they report that the other person is not wearing a mask.
The new feature was originally designed to ensure that Uber’s drivers, as well as its delivery people for Uber Eats, were complying with company policy. Reportedly, the feature can even verify whether people’s mouths and noses are still exposed even if they are wearing a mask. It can also detect whether users are simply trying to skirt the rules by putting their hand over their face.
On Tuesday, the company said it had used this feature on more than 3.5 million drivers and delivery people who have completed more than 100 million mask verifications.
Still, customers were not originally required to take mask selfies, and this move likely came following complaints from drivers who found themselves sharing their vehicles with unmasked passengers.
“We firmly believe that accountability is a two-way street,” Sachin Kansal, Uber’s global head of safety, said in a blog post. “That’s why we’re expanding the same technology to riders, too.”
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, ensuring that everyone in an Uber vehicle is wearing a mask could be critically important, as proper social distancing would be highly unlikely. Even if social distancing is possible in some vehicles, both passengers and drivers would still be in a relatively small enclosed space.
The new policy will first roll out in the United States and Canada near the end of September. After that, Uber plans to begin implementing the policy in Latin American countries.
Drivers Cheer New Policy
On social media, many lauded the new policy, including some drivers who believe it will help keep them safer while working.
“Finally!!!!” one driver said on Twitter. “I’ve been asking for that with the passengers since us drivers are required to take a selfie with a mask on before we can get online.”
Finally!!!! As an Uber driver, I’ve been asking for that with the passengers since us drivers are required to take a selfie with a mask on before we can get online.— 🌈🦄🧜🏻♀️CARRI⚾️🏀🏈 (@chitownfan26) September 1, 2020
Others, however, noted what they believe to be blind spots in the new policy that could still lead to coronavirus spread.
“Problem is it only applies to riders who previously were reported by another driver as not complying. SMH,” one Twitter user said.
The policy also would not be able to address instances where people remove their masks after taking the selfie, though a ride could still be canceled.
According to CNN Business, multiple violations of this policy could lead to an account deactivation, but the company did not indicate how many violations a customer would need to accrue for that to happen.
Uber’s Recent Safety Changes
In May, Uber made a number of changes to its operations. In addition to its mask requirement, the company has also reduced the number of people allowed to ride in an Uber X from four to three.
The company has also promised to spend $50 million on its drivers for safety measures. As of September, Uber said it’s distributed more than 50 million face masks and over 800,000 packets of disinfectant sprays, wipes, and hand sanitizer to drivers.
In July, Uber’s coronavirus safety policies were made indefinite.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (USA Today) (San Francisco Gate)
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)
Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)
- Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
- By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
- Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
Rick Snyder Charges
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.
The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.
He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.
The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.
His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.
8 Others Charged
Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.
Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:
- Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
- Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
- Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
- Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
- Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
- Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.
Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.
At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)
Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack
- At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
- Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus.
On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one.
Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested.
More Cases Follow
Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions.
“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote.
“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added.
“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.
Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks.
Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.