Every day, taxi and rideshare drivers interact with the public and take a chance they will get infected with the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires anyone in a taxi or rideshare vehicle to wear a mask. Yet despite drivers' close interaction with the public, there are no local state or federal regulations that require them to be vaccinated or receive regular tests for the virus. Many have taken such precautions of their own volition, and some practice additional safety measures, but they never know what precautions their customers take. And, in some cases, they’re in direct contact with COVID-19–positive passengers.

Taxi driver José Rodrigues has been busy providing non-emergency medical transportation for low income, disabled and elderly people through Wayfor Taxi Alliance's contract with the state and city of Boston. But if his passengers have tested positive for COVID-19, he doesn’t take them home.

“We’ve been picking them up from Boston City Hospital, Boston Medical Center, and we've been taking them to what we call 'COVID hotels',” he said.

The state calls them isolation hotels. There is one in Everett and another in Taunton. Kayla Rosario Munoz of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said the hotels are part of the state’s Isolation and Recovery Program. To qualify for at stay at the isolation facilities, a person must test positive for COVID-19 and be able to safely isolate without intensive medical supervision. They also must be experiencing homelessness and earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

PPE for taxi drivers
Jose Rodrigues displays the PPE he receives.
Courtesy of José Rodrigues

Rodrigues said he doesn’t get nervous driving these patients. He and other drivers receive personal protective equipment, including KN95 masks and gloves, from the Boston Public Health Commission.

“They tell us when these people are COVID-positive,” Rodrigues said, “and we have to use the gloves and the mask, obviously close the divider between the passenger and the driver, and then sanitize the car after dropping off the passenger.”

He is fully vaccinated and gets tested regularly, like most of the roughly 400 drivers in his taxi alliance.

Six Lyft drivers interviewed for this story all said they had received both the standard course of COVID-19 vaccine and a booster dose.

“I have two shots of Pfizer and the shot booster,” driver Alexandr Skolnik said. “It's my choice. And I think if you're smart, you have to do it.”

Most of those six Lyft drivers said they felt safe transporting passengers during the pandemic. None of them have been tested for the virus, but all said they had not felt ill. Beth Griffith of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild, which represents Uber and Lyft drivers, said when it comes to screening for infection, drivers may be incentivized to not get tested.

“If drivers test positive, they can’t drive,” she said. Griffith said about 75% of the drivers she knows are fully vaccinated.

A Lyft driver named Gohar, who did not want to share his last name due to fear of retribution from the rideshare company, admitted he was concerned for his safety.

“I don’t have a choice," he said. "I have to work, so I take the chance."

Virus Outbreak New York
FILE — Luis Hidalgo, left, watches as Joel Rios installs a plastic barrier in his car to protect himself and his passengers from the new coronavirus in the Bronx borough of New York, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. He and other rideshare drivers opted to install partitions during the pandemic to help keep him and his passengers safe.
Seth Wenig AP

If a passenger doesn’t have a mask, which rarely happens, one driver told GBH News he will transport them, but also report them to Lyft so it appears on their passenger profile. That way, future drivers could decline to respond to a ride request from that same passenger.

Skolnik said, in addition to being vaccinated, he does what he can to keep his car safe for both himself and his passengers. He was one of three drivers interviewed who had installed plastic dividers between the front and rear seats, and two had stickers on those dividers advertising they had been vaccinated. They said it’s a question passengers frequently ask.

“I use a mask, my customer uses the mask,” he said. “Also, I've installed my partition. And I bought a sticker in a ScrubaDub [car wash]. It's $24.99 unlimited car wash. And I wash every day, twice in the morning. And tonight, when I go home, I wash it again. Inside is vacuum-cleaned every day, every day.”