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Bay Area Headlines: Monday, 7/6/20, AM

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Californians Avoid Holiday Crowds As Coronavirus Cases Surge / Gig Workers Face Shifting Roles, Competition In Pandemic

Californians Avoid Holiday Crowds As Coronavirus Cases Surge

Californians mostly heeded warnings to stay away from beaches and other public spaces during the holiday weekend as state officials urged social distancing amid a spike in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.Many communities canceled July 4 fireworks shows and other annual festivities, an those changes that appeared to successfully keep crowds at bay.

On Sunday, California reported another 5,410 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to more than 260,000. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For the two-week period that ended June 29, statewide hospitalizations increased more than 50% to 5,077. That's an alarming figure that has officials worried that hospitals could become overwhelmed.

Mostly rural Imperial County is in the southeastern corner of the state. It has a population of about 180,000 and has had a positive rate hovering around 20%. In recent weeks it’s transferred about 500 coronavirus patients to hospitals outside the region, some as far away as the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the three-week closures of bars, indoor restaurant dining areas, and other indoor venues for 21 of 58 counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 200 state inspectors that are part of new “strike teams” set up by Newsom fanned out over the weekend to enforce rules.

The Southern California cities of West Hollywood and Santa Monica as well as the central coast city of Monterey are enforcing mask mandates. Tickets range from $100 to $300 for a first offense.

Authorities have warned that even ordinary gatherings of families and friends have been identified as sources of COVID-19 infections. In remote Northern California, Lake County reported its first COVID-19 related death last week, and Humboldt County said Friday that about a quarter of its 144 cases were reported in the past two weeks.

The state also is fighting an outbreak in its prisons. The virus is suspected of killing two more death row inmates at San Quentin State Prison, where about 40% of inmates are now infected, according to corrections officials. At least five death row inmates at San Quentin have died from COVID-19.

Gig Workers Face Shifting Roles, Competition In Pandemic

An estimated 1.5 million so-called gig workers make a living driving people to airports, picking out produce at grocery stores, or providing childcare for working parents. They already had a precarious situation, largely without safeguards such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, and health and safety protections.

But now the pandemic is pummeling the global economy. U.S. unemployment has reached heights not seen since the Great Depression. And gig workers are clamoring for jobs that often pay less while competing with the newly unemployed — all while trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus themselves.

 

U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June. That’s a Depression-era level that, while lower than last month, could worsen after a surge in coronavirus cases has led states to close restaurants and bars. The solution could be more gig work.

A researcher at the National Employment Law Project said temporary and contract work grew during the Great Recession and expects that many workers will seek such jobs again amid the current crisis.

But increased reliance on temporary and contract work can have negative implications on job quality and security because it shifts risks and lack of job security onto workers.

It’s difficult to assess the overall picture of the gig economy during the pandemic since some parts are expanding while others are contracting. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, for instance, has brought on 300,000 new contracted shoppers since March, more than doubling its workforce to 500,000. Meanwhile, Uber’s business fell 80% in April compared with last year while Lyft's tumbled 75% in the same period.

Upwork, a website that connects skilled freelance workers with jobs, has seen a 50% increase in signups by both workers and employers since the pandemic began. That includes spikes in jobs related to ecommerce and customer service according to its chief economist.

For food delivery apps, it's been a mixed bag. Although they are getting a bump from restaurants offering more takeout options, those gains are being offset by the restaurant industry’s overall decline during the pandemic.

Gig workers are also jockeying for those jobs from all fronts. DoorDash launched an initiative to help out-of-work restaurant workers sign up for delivery work. Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats, grew over 50% in the first quarter and around 200,000 people have signed up for the app per month since March — about 50% more than usual.

Delivery jobs typically pay less than ride-hailing jobs. The base pay is around $6 per delivery, and most people tip around $2, according to one driver. To avoid shelling out more for childcare, she sometimes brings her 3-year-old son along on deliveries.

Other drivers find it makes more sense to stay home and collect unemployment — a benefit they and other gig workers hadn't qualified for before the pandemic. They are also eligible to receive an additional $600 weekly check from the federal government — a benefit that became available to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Taken together, that can be more than what many ride-hailing drivers were making before the pandemic.

But that $600 benefit will expire at the end of July, and the $2 trillion government relief package that extended unemployment benefits to gig workers expires at the end of the year.