Moving is a nightmare during normal times, but during the COVID-19 pandemic there's a slew of additional considerations you'll need to take—especially since it's unlikely you'll be able to ask friends to help lug boxes up-and-down your century-old walk-up.
I moved on April 30th—the day when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced they would shutter the subway system overnight for cleaning and face coverings were being distributed in neighborhoods hit the hardest from the coronavirus.
Because I've been privileged enough to mostly work from home during the pandemic (unlike scores of essential workers fighting for hazard pay and demanding proper protective gear), for the first time in more than a month I took a bus and the subway, in order to pick up my moving vehicle. Then, in the pouring rain, I drove a U-Haul truck over the Brooklyn Bridge, a terrifying first-time experience.
When we were moving boxes between the truck and apartments, it was impossible to avoid bumping shoulders with neighbors, and there was still a risk of coming into contact with new roommates I wasn't isolating with previously. Throughout the ordeal, I wore a mask and sanitized my hands often.
Though moving has always been considered "essential" during New York's stay-at-home orders, as NYC is in the middle of Phase 2 of reopening and nearing Phase 3, there's still precautions to take. Here's some advice, and some of what to expect.
Wear a mask
"I would be wearing a mask the whole time," said NYU epidemiologist Emily Goldmann, who also recently moved, from Harlem to Jersey City. When she moved, back in April, mask-wearing still wasn't mandated, so just one of her movers was wearing a mask, but now, whether movers, friends, or family, Goldmann says wearing a mask the entire time is key.
"The way I think about it is that you want to handle this move in the same way you handle anything else in your life—using the precautions that we've all been told to use and hopefully been using," Goldmann said.
That means hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, physical distancing, and washing your hands as much as possible. Gloves, she said, are less important to wear in comparison to avoiding touching your face and keeping your hands clean.
Disinfect and sanitize
If you're packing up a U-Haul and driving it yourself, she recommends wiping down the inside of the vehicle with disinfectant wipes prior to operating the vehicle—the steering wheel, the sides of the door, and "whatever you're going to touch."
Don't touch your face. Wash your hands once you're able.
My roommates, both old and new, helped with hauling boxes and my couch. Whether you ask friends and family or hire movers to help, the main thing Goldmann recommends is keeping distance; no beers and pizza afterwards, and ask people who are otherwise healthy and not immunocompromised.
"I would make sure that you're all packed and ready and all your stuff that sort of in an area close to the door, and then if you can distance yourself as much as possible from the individuals who are moving the furniture, the boxes and everything, and wear your mask and insist that they wear masks as well," she said.
The coronavirus can remain on different surfaces for different amounts of time—cardboard for 24 hours or other surfaces for days. Though Goldmann says the virus is not necessarily infectious on surfaces after a few hour, even during her move, she still took the more cautious approach.
"I wiped everything down, all of the furniture, and with the boxes, we did actually wait 24 hours before we opened them," she said. "I'm not sure if that was fully necessary. But you know, at the time, we had been hearing about the virus quote, living on on paper for 24 hours. So we did wait."
Since our interview, surface transmission has been less of a concern among health experts.
Transportation, and who helps you move, is mostly about your budget
When I moved on April 30th, I took a bus to pick-up a U-Haul truck and a subway at the end of the day back to my new home. I could've biked or taken a car. But it was raining in the morning and my moving buddy that day does not bike. A for-hire vehicle wasn't in my budget.
"I really hesitate to say don't take the subway, don't take the bus. If taking an Uber or a car, which I'm not sure it's really that much safer, it's very expensive," she said. "The way we had to do it is, we rented the car in Jersey City. My husband took an Uber there with a mask on and the driver had a mask on. And then picked up the car, came and got us, and then dropped it back off in walking distance from our house in Jersey City."
If you take a car, open the windows to avoid as much stagnant, indoor air. "The reason we're putting off going to restaurants and indoor places like that as groups is that sort of stagnant air in there," she said.
Biking or walking is safest.
The U-Haul pick-up location in Chelsea had social distancing measures for their line—six feet between customers—to sign off for a truck both when I moved April 30th and when I helped a friend move in mid-June. Before driving off, the truck was pulled up to turn onto the street with the keys in the ignition already.
Go virtual for viewing apartments when you can
Finding an apartment has also shifted during the pandemic. Since June 22nd, in-person apartment showings have resumed, but only in unoccupied or vacant apartments. One broker of Warburg Realty, Gerard Splendore, said he'll open windows "as much as possible" and sanitize surfaces during walk-throughs.
Another Warburg Realty broker, Lisa Camillieri plans to do one-off showings, rather than open houses.
"There seems to be no point in creating an unnecessary risk," she said. "I think that one-on-one showings, as much virtual as possible, and sanitizing after all showings should be mandatory but the rest of the list should remain strong recommendations."
The Real Estate Board of New York recommends virtual interactions done where possible, with six-feet of distance maintained during in-person interactions and face coverings worn as well. Its guidelines were built on the New York State Department of Health's requirements.
Don't expect regular open houses
"We will accommodate all showings by appointment only. We will not organize Open Houses because we feel that they are a potential health risk in the pandemic environment," said Warburg Realty broker Susan Landau Abrams. "Also, the majority of buildings in New York will understandably not permit Open Houses for safety reasons."
The state health department's guidelines say showings should be staggered and real estate agents are encouraged not to show common spaces to tenants in-person unless they're frequently cleaned. The department also encourages "only one party" inside the property at a time.
"If more than one party is inside the property at the same time, 6 feet of distance must be maintained at all times between individuals, and face coverings must be worn," the guidelines read.
Quarantine as much as possible before moving in, especially if you're changing roommates (a.k.a. your "pandemic pod")
"If possible, my advice would be, if you know in advance that you're moving in, and you have enough time, I would say if you can self-isolate entirely for two weeks before you move in, everyone who's moving in together, all of the 'new units,' that is the ideal situation," said Goldmann, acknowledging people may be forced to move out on a shorter time period.
"This is something people thought about a lot as people move," Goldmann said. As an NYU professor, she and colleagues thought of students, who were forced to leave their dorms and return home. "We all thought, 'Oh my goodness, they're all going home to their families,' and thinking about [how they may be] bringing infection with them," acknowledging the complexity of that decision and noting that if people have to move, there are precautions to do it safely.
"If somebody is showing symptoms, I would say delay the move in with each other for sure," she said.
"There are things in life, you just have to do it. But I think if you are saying, 'Oh, you know, I'd like a different apartment,' maybe waiting a little while would be the right thing to do." But, she added, "It's just like going to the store, everybody has to go out at some point."