Americans Are Still Moving—With Hand Sanitizer, Gloves, and Thermometers

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Next week, Daryl and Kathy Storment will be moving about 300 miles west from their home in Eastern Washington, a rural area known for rolling hills and big fields—toward the center of the country’s first outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The couple, both 74, decided on the move before COVID-19 became a household name. They wanted to be closer to their daughter and her family. So they navigated the tricky balance of selling their current home while trying to buy another.

Amazingly, it all came together: They accepted an offer on their home in Pullman in February and found a three-bed, two-bath, 1,950-square-foot home in Gig Harbor, a suburb of Tacoma. They plan to close on both the sale of their existing home and the purchase of their new one on April 7.

“We had an offer [on our house] and accepted it. That’s why we went ahead with” the move, says Kathy, a retired teacher. “Don’t think we knew much about the coronavirus at the time.”

Daryl and Kathy Storment outside of the home they recently sold in Pullman, WA

Provided by the Storments

By any standards, the moving industry, like so many others right now, is substantially down in numbers, even if it is considered an essential business. More than 71% of the independent moving companies (not including the big companies) reported a decrease in business since the pandemic spread across the U.S., according to a survey of 300 firms conducted by Hire A Helper, an online market for moving services. More than 35% of the respondents said half or more of their orders were cancelled due to the viral outbreak, according to the survey released on March 24.

And yet, despite widespread fears about catching the  highly contagious coronavirus, and stay-at-home orders in many states, including Washington, some Americans are still moving. Some had committed to a move before the public health crisis escalated. Others are somewhat undaunted by it. But the process of moving in the age of the coronavirus has changed dramatically.

Moving companies have been updating their policies and procedures to adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to address their customers’ growing concerns.

The new normal of moving during a pandemic

Artisan Movers in Rockville, MD

Provided by Artisan Movers

Employees’ temperatures are taken every morning at Movher, an independent moving company based in Spokane, WA. If workers have a fever or cough, feel weak or achy, they’re told to go home.

“You’re not feeling well?” asks Movher owner Sabrina Jones. “Goodbye. I don’t want you here.”

Jones is also a board member of the Washington Trucking Association, an industry group of independent movers with 20 members.

To ensure employees stay healthy and can keep working, Jones provides them with homemade hand sanitizer made with aloe vera gel and rubbing alcohol, with a drop of tea tree oil “to make it smell good.”

When the company started running low on disinfecting wipes, she soaked paper towel squares in a bleach solution and packed them into plastic bags. The workers, who use disposable gloves, wipe down the trucks’ high-touch surfaces like steering wheels, gas caps, and locks. Everything they touch is wiped down in the morning and again at day’s end.

But even so, Jones says most customers over 60 and those with underlying health conditions, who health experts say are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19, postponed their moves weeks ago. Business is down about 15%, as many movers are no longer allowed to work in assisted-living communities or retirement homes. On the other hand, the movers were able to make up some of that decline with parents hiring movers to ship home or store the belongings of their college-student children, whose schools and dorms have closed due to the virus.

“We have enough home sales in the process to carry us through the next 60 days,” says Jones. “But after that we expect a slowdown.”

Maryland has been hard-hit by the coronavirus, but Marc Lewandowski, owner of Artisan Movers in Rockville, has not noticed a slowdown as yet. Most of Artisan Movers’ customers are in the Washington, DC, metro area.

“No one has canceled,” he says. “Our customers are more concerned with us actually showing up.”

However, he says his company hasn’t received any requests to pack homeowners’ belongings since social distancing guidelines went into effect this month. He asks his movers to take sanitary precautions at home and on the job.

Elsewhere, the picture is more grim. Slidell Moving and Storage, a family-owned business near hard-hit New Orleans, has lost half of its business within the past week, says third-generation owner Steven Fisk.

“It gets worse every day,” says Fisk. “We are looking at April being a complete nightmare.”

To stay afloat, he’s laid off employees and reduced hours. Other employees, worried about contracting COVID-19, have stopped coming to work.

When moving isn’t a choice—but it’s complicated

Michelle Anderson, 32, still plans to move to Washington this summer with her husband. Anderson, a veterinarian, is in the Army Reserve. Her husband, Nick Anderson, 32, is on active duty in the Army at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Earlier this year, Nick received a hoped-for change of station order to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, WA.

But Michelle doesn’t know when they’ll be able to move, since the Department of Defense issued travel restrictions on March 13 to curb the spread of the virus.

“I’m hoping that when we want to move, a lot of this will have calmed down,” she says. “I’m not too worried about it.”

Like the Andersons, the Storments say they are not overly worried about being exposed to the virus during the process of moving. However, they do plan to wipe down and disinfect all the hard surfaces of their new home.

“We probably won’t meet our neighbors right away,” says Kathy. “They’re not going to be bringing over cookies for us, for sure.”

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