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Recovering from COVID-19 in New York City: A freelancer’s story

Appjobs recently spoke with Ariel to get insight into what it is like to be a freelancer who has been closely affected by the pandemic. Ariel is a New York City resident with many talents: he has driven for Uber for the past two years, while managing a small business selling Dominican pastries. When the pandemic began, forcing him to stay at home, he got a part-time, remote job in Human Resources.  He has not only been economically impacted by the statewide lockdown, but he is also a recovering COVID-19 patient.

He offered the inside scoop on what life is like as a freelancer in the Big Apple during COVID-19, what happened when he got infected and why he has hope looking forward. 


At the beginning tell us a little bit more about yourself what you are doing on a daily basis. 

I’m an Uber driver. I’ve been an Uber driver for two years — going on three soon. And I also have a small business from my house where I do pastries. 

I do Dominican pastries and have been doing that for many, many years. And I also do small gigs here and there. One of the gigs decided to just hire me full-time right after this pandemic, which is great.

What do you do exactly?

I am an HR IS analyst. So that is a human resource information system analyst. I’m helping them with metrics, any HR-related information and I make sure systems are in place.

Before I got hired full time, I was doing all three. I mean, I’m still doing all three now, but it’s been really hard to do Uber. 

So the current job that you got — I believe you do it online — you got it right after the pandemic started, right? 

Correct.

What do you do exactly? What is it like joining the company when you cannot meet your co-workers face-to-face?

Well, I’m a one-man team. All I need is a computer and access to the systems, communicating with people via email or via phone. That’s all that’s necessary for me. I don’t need human contact since all I’m doing is making sure that systems are up to date, profiles are up to date. Everything can be done online. I don’t really need that contact — physical contact with people. 

Do you think you will still drive for Uber? 

Absolutely. Yeah. I have to, because it’s just the way things are here in New York. I have bills, and I made it a goal this year to finish paying off my credit card debt.

I started working with Uber just to have extra income. Then, it became a necessity. Now, I have a goal and it’s tough. I have extra income, but I also have to pay off my credit card debt, which is my main goal right now. I’m still going to be doing Uber whenever I’m able to get back onto the road. 

I actually tested positive for COVID-19. So the past three weeks have been really, really hard on me. 

Do you think you could have been infected while driving?

Oh, no. No, this was not while I was driving. This was because I was actually doing gig work at one of the healthcare facilities. It must have been through there, or it must have been through public transportation that I took. 

How do you feel right now? Are you done with quarantine or do you still have to stay?

So I am slightly better. Luckily, the only thing that I had was a fever of 102.5, and a really bad migraine. I went to sleep with a migraine. I woke up with a migraine. That was the worst. I didn’t have any shortness of breath or anything like that. So, according to the doctors, it was mild symptoms. I’m really lucky when it comes to that right now. I broke my fever over the weekend. I don’t have any fever now, and I have a very, very, very slight headache. It’s almost cloud-base. I’m much better, yeah.

That’s great to hear! Since Uber provides some benefits for people who are infected, did you receive any support?

The support that they really provide is not the support that drivers really need. The support that we really need as drivers are: are you going to cover our health care, or are you going to give us subsidized health care? Are you going to give us a gift or average out how much we make per month, and give us maybe 50 percent of that? At least for the time being. 

Did they help at all with paying health insurance? 

No, not at all. 

I read that infected Uber drivers would be getting paid to stay at home. Is that true?

Not to my knowledge. That can probably depend on the sector that you’re in, but I know for a sector as big as New York, that has not been the case. 

What would you say that you received from Uber? 

Nothing to be quite honest. It would have been nice to even receive an email from Uber stating, “Hey, do you have the COVID-19 virus symptoms? Did you test positive? If you did, go to this corner, give us all the information that you need.” 

The only thing that I’ve seen was there was a blog that they posted a while back. They mention information about if you’ve been delivering in the past 30 days, or you worked in the past 30 days, they can assist you. But this virus started more than 30 days ago. What if you couldn’t work within the last 30 days? There’s nothing about that.

You said that you stopped working when you got the coronavirus. When do you think you’ll be able to go back to work?

I guess I’ll drive with Uber in the meantime. Obviously, it’s not something that I want to do. It’s something that I need to do.It’s a necessity. But if it wasn’t a necessity, then it would have been a different story. 

Nikki, that we interviewed some time ago said that she lost about 95 percent of her income. How much of your income would you say that you’ve lost since you were not able to work with Uber or your pastry business?

Yeah, it’s pretty high. I would say, about 80-something. 

Did you try to apply for government support, even though you have a job right now? 

It’s interesting that you ask that, because I’m not unemployed — if that’s what you were talking about. I’m not unemployed, because of the job that I do. So, that’s the tough part. I’ve got to figure out if there’s a check that people will receive if you made under a certain amount. 

So that’s what I’m waiting on, to see if I qualify for that. They have a system online, but it just opened up today and it’s not working. 

Do you have any advice for other people in this situation? Do you have any good practices to follow in order to ask for support or where to find a job? 

At the moment, I guess, just use your community. Ask friends. Use organizations like Appjobs, Craigslist, LinkedIn and Facebook. Just say, “Hey, we’re going through this. I know I’m not the only one. It’s the whole entire world.” I think at the end of the day that there are jobs out there. You just gotta be willing to look for it. And that’s the biggest question: are you willing to put in the work to find a job? 

Trust me, there’s a whole lot of jobs out there that are hiring, such as Amazon, to do deliveries and all that stuff. But also back end work. Like this organization that needs me to make sure that their systems are in place. So, there are jobs out there, but you just have to use your resources. Make sure that you are willing to do it, because it is a full-time job looking for a job. 

So if you’re willing to put in that effort, don’t just sit back and think, “Oh, I’m gonna apply to a job,” and expect that you’re going to get it. That’s not the case. You’re competing with a ton of people. Just make sure that you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket. 

Do you think the people who are doing delivery jobs are in danger at the moment?

Yeah, of course, one hundred percent. One hundred percent. That’s a really major decision that you have to make. If you’re willing to go that route, do keep in mind that the possibility of you getting infected are pretty high. 

I still think that us, as a society, can do a better job at cleanliness. Why do you have gloves because you’re delivering packages, but you’re also touching your phone with the same pair of gloves. Or touching your hair. Or touching your hat. Why? Those little things that we think aren’t a big problem, but it is. You’re touching your phone constantly and then you’re touching all these other things with your hands or your gloves, but you don’t change out your gloves. Sometimes common sense is not common sense. I don’t blame the individual. It’s more of a societal thing, because we’re so used to always being on our phones. It rings or vibrates and we don’t think, “Oh, let me change my gloves.” 

We have to change all of those habits in this situation. Even basic things like touching our heads.

Absolutely. And it’s really hard. We’re so used to putting our hands in our pockets, taking out our phone and getting a drink at the grocery store. We don’t think about it. “Oh, let me sign and touch my hand before I touch that.” It’s just a mindset that we just have to change. I don’t personally think our hygiene is as good as it should be. I used to work at a huge hospital, and I used to see it.

Photo by Gustavo Fring

How do you feel when your job changed from one in which you had more contact with people to one now that is all online? Does that change a lot in your life? 

It’s a nice getaway. Sometimes dealing with people every day for hours a day is not easy. When you’re driving, people are mad, people are upset. 

When you’re a driver, you’re not only a driver. You’re a mom. You’re a therapist. You’re a doctor. You’re a sister, because you’re listening to these conversations. You have to care for these people. Obviously, you got to care about their safety and all that stuff. I can tell you that I’ve driven so many drunk people, they just wanted somebody to talk to, somebody to listen to them. I’m that person. And that’s the thing — a lot of people don’t see it like that. They just all think this is a driver who is going to take me from point A to point B. 

It’s also emotionally tiring. 

Yeah, of course. People don’t see that side, but it’s a nice getaway in the meantime. I’m sure I will want to go out there once again, and just keep that adrenaline or knowing it’s easy to make $400 a day. It’s easy to make $600 a day. It’s very easy in 10 hours, which is nothing. That’s easy. Having that passion to look forward to. Especially if money motivates you, that’s been the biggest challenge. 

How do you feel about the future of work? How will the job market look after the crisis? What is it going to look like once all of this is over? 

I’m looking forward to it, because it’s gonna be a boom. I think people have been stuck inside for so long that everybody’s going to want to go outside. Everybody’s going to get a haircut. Everybody’s going to get a manicure or pedicure. Everybody’s gonna order pastries. People are going to be out and about and getting out of the house. Yeah, go to the park, especially now that it’s getting warmer in New York City. Yeah, I think to play, go to beauty shops, restaurants; it’s definitely going to be a big boom.  And I think you’re going to see the economy skyrocket again. It’s gonna take some time. But come the summer, we’re going to have tourists, and we’re gonna be fine.

You’re saying that people will go out even if they are still afraid before the vaccine can be discovered. 

That’s a very interesting point that you bring up. I’m a person that I try not to live in fear, I try to see a positive in everything.

There’s a difference between being positive and being realistic. Are people going to be scared? Absolutely. But to be honest, in New York itself, we don’t have a lockdown. There are still people out right now in the parks, hanging out by a store and in front of a store. It hasn’t stopped people 100 percent.

Do I say that a lot of people are indoors? Yes, but it hasn’t really stopped people as a whole.

So, seeing those people is what gives people hope to say, “We’re gonna get there.” I’m not saying we’re going to get there tomorrow. Obviously, it is going to take time. But I think, why not be hopeful? 

With this pause that we have in New York or the US, or the rest of the world actually, that being indoor does help. It does mitigate the situation, not 100 percent, but it does help. Although they are saying there may be a second wave which is scary. If it were to happen, if it came around again. That’s scary.

It’s important to stay positive because we don’t have influence on so many things.

Yeah, and I think it’s needed. There are a lot of people who are depressed by being stuck at home or they’re not able to go out. Especially if you’re by yourself, I can definitely see why people are stressed, have anxiety and all that stuff. I could definitely see it. If you’re with a family, that’s different.

But yeah, it’s just being hopeful. You’re wanting the best for yourself and the rest of the world, but also being realistic and smart about it.

It’s important to stay positive because we don’t have influence on so many things.

No actually, no, not really because I was in school. I was working, and luckily I still had a job.

Here, in Poland, we didn’t feel the impact of the financial crisis in 2008 that much. I think that this is the first thing that can have a huge effect on our economy in the last 30 years. I think it will change a lot, but I’m not sure which direction it will go in. It’s still too early to say.

Yeah, it definitely is, but the economy took time back then. I think the same thing is gonna happen now. I think some of the leaders that we have are doing a good job.


What is it going to look like once all of this is over? 

There’s gonna be a boom.

I think people have been stuck inside for so long that everybody’s going to want to go outside. Everybody’s going to get a haircut. 

Everybody’s going to get a manicure or pedicure. 

Everybody’s gonna order pastries. 

People are going to be out and about, getting out of the house. Go to the park, to beauty shops, restaurants; there’s definitely going to be a big boom


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Sean Dougherty is a brand storyteller working in copywriting, voice acting and positioning strategy.

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