Betania Shephard works as a house cleaner in Philadelphia, cleaning several homes and rental properties. She didn’t work at all in March and April, and her husband, who works in construction, is also out of work. She began cleaning a few houses again in May, but work is slow. Only one family continued to pay her wages during her time off, and a stranger helped pay her telephone bill.
“Lots of people don’t care about their domestic employees,” said Ms. Shephard, who has two young children. “House cleaners are so important, more valuable than anything during this pandemic because we clean so that nothing is contaminated,” she said. She purchased her own gloves and masks with help from a fund set up for domestic workers, but she worries about the risks of exposure to coronavirus since she is cleaning rental homes used by people traveling from other parts of the country. “We are protecting the next guest who enters.”
Home health aides and nannies face additional risk because their jobs require them to come into close and prolonged contact with children, the elderly or members of the household who are disabled. In those cases, families should consider including the household worker as part of the family bubble. Without intruding on their health privacy, employers can ask workers if they are concerned about their personal health risks or have a vulnerable family member. Consider all the potential exposures your worker brings to your bubble, and the exposures your household brings to the worker’s family.
Does the worker need to take a bus or subway to get to you? If it’s not possible for you to drive them or pay for a car service, talk to them about making their commute safer by wearing a mask, gloves and an outer layer that can be removed at the door.
Home health aides should wear masks, as should their patients if possible. Caregivers and employers should agree on precautions, such as frequent hand-washing, not sharing serving dishes and social distancing when they go for walks or to the park.
Pay attention to what’s happening in your community. If overall case counts start to rise or if test positivity rates creep above 5 percent, you may want to tighten your quarantine and allow your domestic worker to do the same with their family. The Domestic Workers Alliance has created online return-to-work guides for employers.
“It really is about fostering good communication between families and workers,” said Ms. Poo. “Have an open and ongoing conversation about risk of exposure. It’s a two-way street, and it’s about being honest and thinking about safety collectively.”