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Taking an Uber? The app has new COVID-19 policies

Starting Monday Uber drivers and riders have to wear a mask. Drivers even have to prove it.

When local Uber drivers pull out their phones Monday to accept a rider or deliver a meal, they’ll have to take a selfie to prove they’re wearing a face covering.

Uber announced Wednesday it’s using in-app technology to verify drivers have a mask on and is requiring riders to wear thems, too. The new rules come after the platform encouraged app users to stay at home the last two months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are starting to turn to Uber once again,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi during a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday.

The company’s senior director of project management, Sachin Kansal, said the latest policies do not encourage people to leave their homes. Rather, they ensure those who need to use the app stay safe.

In Florida, malls, restaurants and salons have all been given the green light to reopen — though with rules in place that require social distancing and limits on capacity. But even as the state reopens, it’s not as if Uber has been slammed with customers. Many drivers who relied on the app for income have filed for unemployment or shifted to grocery and meal delivery.

But Kansal said the app needs to “prepare for the new normal.”

Related: No shirt, no shoes, no mask ... no service?

Kansal said Uber used technology it had developed to verify drivers were using the account to which they were registered to create the mask verification program. A driver cannot accept a rider without proving a mask is on their face and checking off other safety reminders.

Riders do not have to use a photo to prove they have a mask on, but drivers are given an in-app option to cancel a trip if a user is not wearing one. Drivers can also rate riders low and note if they do not wear a mask or take it off mid-way through the drive. Riders can leave a bad review for the same reasons.

Kansal said repeat offenders could be removed from the platform.

“What’s most important to us is the accountability on both sides,” he said.

Riders can no longer sit in the front seat and cars are limited to one fewer than a ride typically allows. That means an “UberX” ride will only allow three passengers. Uber says it also encourages riders to open the back windows for air flow at the recommendation from experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

Uber Eats drivers, who deliver meals from restaurants, also are required to prove they have masks on.

Uber says it has spent $50 million securing masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes that drivers can get from the company for free.

Kansal said while the company is not supplying drivers with plexiglass partitions — like those seen in Taxis — drivers are free to install such barriers themselves.

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