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How To Plague: Our Coronavirus Advice Column On Amazon Orders, Fake Nails, And Petting Dogs

We're trying our best to answer your ethical and social dilemmas about how to live responsibly through this pandemic.

Posted on March 21, 2020, at 10:32 a.m. ET

Abbey Lossing for BuzzFeed News

Hi, I’m Katie Notopoulos, a tech reporter here at BuzzFeed News, and I have no actual expertise in epidemiology, but I sure do enjoy telling people how to live their lives. Which means I’m the perfect person to tell you How to Plague. This is BuzzFeed News' advice column for these incredibly confusing times. The coronavirus pandemic is changing rapidly, with new information coming out seemingly by the hour. I’ll try to help with your queries about social distancing etiquette and ethical dilemmas large and small, and call up some actual experts to weigh in when needed.

Send me your questions at katie@buzzfeed.com, or sign up for our text messaging service to send me questions that way.


For those of us with acrylic nails/fake nails in general who need regular fills from a licensed nail technician every few weeks, should we be having our acrylics removed ASAP? And not put them back on until after this is all over, potentially months from now? Please help, I don't want to remove them, as they’re like putting a Band-Aid on my mental health issues, but I also don’t want to risk my physical health for them.

The smart thing is to have them removed ASAP, but I understand exactly what you mean about them being vital to your mental health. I have a few ideas here that may help.

First of all, you’re correct to assume your local nail salon will likely close temporarily (maybe it already has, depending on where you live). This is bad for you, but it’s devastating for the salon owners and people who work there. Even in the best of times, nail salon workers are notoriously underpaid and unprotected from the hazardous chemicals and fumes in their workplace. Most are unlikely to receive sick leave pay if they don’t feel well. They’re usually women, often immigrants, and are among the many kinds of workers who are very vulnerable right now to the economic effects of small businesses having to shut down.

So you want to support the nail tech whom you’ve normally been going to every few weeks, right? Here are two suggestions:

  1. DIY it. Ask your nail salon to sell you the powder fill and supplies — there are a lot of YouTube tutorials about how to do acrylic fills. On the plus side, if it looks a little janky your first few tries, you won’t be going out anywhere anyway!

  2. Get them removed, but buy a big gift certificate at your local salon for later on. That way, the salon will get your dollars in the short term to stay afloat if it needs to shut down for a while. TIP BIG. In the meantime, try press-ons.

Is it better for us to not use Amazon right now if it's not essential? If we can wait to Prime some Cheetos and hot sauce? Should we just hold off so they can focus on filling the crazy amount of orders they currently have? How is this impacting their drivers and workers?

This is an exceedingly difficult question because there are a lot of different ethical considerations going into Amazon orders right now.

First, let’s look at ordering versus going to the store yourself. You’re less likely to spread the coronavirus by ordering food to be delivered than you are by going to a crowded grocery store — purely because you’ll be dealing with one delivery person instead of many people in a store.

The next level to this is the safety of the Amazon warehouse workers and delivery drivers. Amazon does not have a sterling reputation here, even during normal conditions. There are such tough demands placed on the contract delivery drivers that they have been known to drive dangerously, and their bathroom breaks are nonexistent. Warehouse conditions can also be grueling, with workers reportedly peeing in bottles. (Amazon has said that workers have reasonable access to bathrooms.)

But now, warehouse safety has a whole other level: keeping the workers protected from the coronavirus. And so far, warehouse workers are telling BuzzFeed News that Amazon isn’t doing enough here. Workers say hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and masks are in short supply, and that facilities aren’t being cleaned frequently enough. Last week, Amazon told workers they were required to do an overtime shift and encouraged coming in extra days, since there’s been a huge increase in demand and many staffers are out sick. There have been at least five cases of workers in Europe who have gotten sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

For drivers, there’s of course another level of risk of having to interact with a lot of strangers, some of whom may be holed up in their homes precisely because they’ve already been exposed to the virus.

I asked my colleagues Caroline O’Donovan and Ken Bensinger to weigh in on this question. They have been talking to tons of Amazon warehouse and delivery workers recently and reporting on their working conditions since long before the pandemic broke out. They both agreed that while many workers are scared for their own health, some are very glad to be getting the overtime pay and the relative job stability for the time being, while other industries are seeing mass layoffs.

“These questions for me come down not to ‘What should consumers do?’ but to ‘What should businesses and billionaires do?’ (pay people more, give them sick leave, etc.),” O’Donovan told me. “In the meantime, while we don't know how many workers are sick and while the orders are spiking, I would try to limit what you really need (not scented candles).”

To get an answer straight from the source, O’Donovan posed your question to an Amazon warehouse worker. “No, I don't think it's OK for America to be slamming us to make themselves safer while jeopardizing our health and our families,” said the worker, who wanted to remain anonymous to protect their job.

Another worker echoed the sentiment: “Well, I really think that is something they need to do better. Everybody thinks that Amazon is the safest place to get your items. I don't really think all the sex toys we send out is a necessity at the moment; people do not need to be hoarding now.”

Here are my ultimate suggestions for you:

  • Avoid ordering nonessential items at the moment.

  • If you can’t resist, select the option to have it ship along with essential items you’re ordering. (Amazon lets you select a designated delivery day for your shipments at checkout so they all ship together.)

  • Tip your delivery heroes in cash — even though in theory they’re not supposed to accept this, do it anyway. These people are literally putting their health on the line for you and your community, bringing food and supplies to elderly and at-risk people who need these deliveries. They deserve it.

  • Be a safer customer to the delivery people: Wipe down your doorknobs and doorbells between all comings and goings to help them avoid potential exposure to the virus from other delivery drivers or people (including yourself).

If you are concerned about the safety of Amazon workers and drivers, voice that in the traditional ways: Write a letter to the company saying you’re a concerned customer. Call your local legislator and tell them you care deeply about the welfare of the Amazon workers in your city/state and that you want them to do what they can to make sure those people are safe.

Can I let other people pet my dog? I’m afraid if they do, they will leave cooties on her fur, which will transfer to me when I pet her. If the answer is no (which I expect it is), how do I explain social distancing to a very social dog?

Courtesy Marla Felcher

Becca, a very social dog who wants to be pet.

For this, I asked Dr. Dan Smith, a veterinarian at West Village Veterinary Hospital, if the coronavirus can be transmitted through dog fur. He said:

It's unclear. Just about anything can act as a "fomite," which is a surface upon which a virus can be deposited and then transmitted. As of now the research suggests that the virus lives longer on nonporous surfaces, like metal, than other surfaces, such as pet hair. If that's the case, then pet hair should be lower on the list of likely transmission surfaces. But there's always a chance! At my practice we are wearing gloves when interacting with all of our patients now, just to take an extra level of precaution.

As much of a good boy or good girl your doggo might be, I'm recommending to my clients that it may be safer to err on the side of caution and not allow strangers to pet your dog. I know one owner who has taken to saying her dog is aggressive (she's not!) to try and convince a stranger not to approach.

Dr. Smith said it’s currently not totally clear if dogs can get COVID-19 themsevles. In China, there have been two cases of dogs testing positive but never showing signs of illness. There’s just not enough data yet. But he advises that, if you can, you might as well try to keep your dog from slobbering on other strange dogs at the dog park.

As far as how to explain this to your dog, you have to be honest and straightforward. Sit them down before their next walk and tell them: “Woof woof woof. Woof woof good boy woof woof.”


Logo illustration by Alex Eben Meyer for BuzzFeed News.

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

    Contact Katie Notopoulos at katie@buzzfeed.com.

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