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Uber wants riders to sanitize the backseat to help fight coronavirus

The ride-hailing company says drivers in select cities will now have a steady supply of Clorox disinfectant wipes for everyone to use.

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Uber drivers and passengers are now required to wear face masks during rides. 

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

When hailing an Uber, passengers in certain cities will now get a new prompt that tells them disinfectant wipes will be available during their ride. Through a partnership with Clorox, Uber said Tuesday it's distributing hundreds of thousands of canisters of the cleaning supply company's wipes to drivers. Uber is also telling riders which surfaces in the car it recommends they clean before and after every trip.

The initiative comes as novel coronavirus cases are surging across many parts of the US. As of Tuesday, the country has seen more than 125,000 deaths and 2.5 million cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Despite the uptick in cases, many states are continuing to reopen after shelter-in-place orders have lifted over the past few weeks.

"As we navigate a new normal and cities continue to reopen, we want all Uber users to travel with confidence. That starts with clean cars," Uber wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. "Cleanliness is a shared responsibility and riders should also be making an effort to sanitize the frequently touched areas in the back of the car to help create a cleaner environment for themselves, the driver, and the next passenger."

Last month, Uber released a new version of its app focused on safety guidelines around the novel coronavirus. In the updated app, drivers and passengers are required to agree to a checklist of items before each trip, such as confirming they're wearing a face mask, keeping the windows rolled down when possible and having no one sitting in the front seat.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people avoid sitting in confined spaces with strangers, such as a car, to lower the risk of coronavirus infection.

Uber drivers say they've experienced a difficult time during the pandemic. Many have reported coming down with COVID-19 and at least five are known to have died from the illness.

Uber said it's spent $50 million to buy cleaning supplies and masks to help protect drivers. Some drivers have said these items are hard to get, however. If drivers do receive them, they say the supplies are often limited and don't last long.

With its new initiative with Clorox, Uber has indicated the wipes will be more readily available. Starting in July, Uber will distribute a total of 600,000 canisters of wipes to drivers in three select cities: Atlanta, Chicago and New York. Each city will continue to get 200,000 more canisters per month.

Uber recommends drivers focus on cleaning the front seat, including the steering wheel, gear shift, cup holders and door handles. And the company suggests passengers wipe down certain high-touch surfaces in the back seat, including seat belt buckles, window controllers and door handles.

If a driver doesn't have the disinfectant wipes, riders won't receive the in-app notification before being picked up. Uber said that after piloting in the first three cities, it will possibly expand to other cities around the country.