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Instacart now has its shoppers take an in-app sick test before logging on

The grocery delivery company launches several new features geared toward coronavirus safety.

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Instacart hired 300,000 more workers over the last month to meet customer demand. Now it says it's bringing on another 250,000.

Angela Lang/CNET
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Instacart said Thursday that it's aiming to give more assistance to its workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The grocery delivery company rolled out several new initiatives, including "wellness checks" for its shoppers and an easier way for workers to request health and safety kits from within the app.

The move comes as Instacart has faced strikes and criticism from its workers that it's not doing enough to keep them safe from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

"Instacart has become an essential service for millions of families relying on us to help deliver their groceries and household goods in the wake of COVID-19," Apoorva Mehta, founder and CEO of Instacart, said in a statement. "We recognize these are extraordinary times and we take our responsibility to safely serve shoppers and customers very seriously." 

But many Instacart workers say the company hasn't done enough. Those workers striking against the company are demanding things like hazard pay and safety equipment. Many say the health and safety kits they've received are inadequate, with flimsy masks and not enough hand sanitizer. The workers say they also want the company to provide sick leave for shoppers who are vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Instacart has offered workers two weeks sick leave if they get COVID-19 or are mandated to quarantine. But many workers say that pay is hard to come by. An Instacart shopper near Portland, Oregon, told CNET last month that after coming down with COVID-19 symptoms and submitting a doctor's letter to the company, the shopper still couldn't get sick pay from Instacart.

The company said Thursday that it's expanding its sick pay for workers. The paid leave program is actually the same, but Instacart is extending its previous deadline for workers to apply, from May 8 until the crisis is over. Additionally, the company said it's giving bonuses that range from $25 to $200 to those workers who are paid hourly, like site managers and in-store shoppers responsible for packing groceries. 

The wellness checks Instacart is now mandating involve workers taking a daily in-app survey about whether they're having COVID-19 related symptoms. A company spokeswoman said that if workers complete the check and confirm they're healthy, they can begin their day's work on the platform. But if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, like fever, coughing or shortness of breath, they'll be temporarily deactivated and told to call their doctor.

Instacart told CNET last month that when it gets information of coronavirus outbreaks in grocery stores where its workers shop, it will send them messages letting them know they may've been exposed to COVID-19

"The main problem is that Instacart doesn't plan to support shoppers that get sick," said Susan Cuffaro, a San Diego-based Instacart worker, who added that the company hasn't yet told its workers about the daily wellness checks. "Saying shoppers should consult their physicians is literally meaningless."

The company now has more than 500,000 workers in the US and Canada, and since the coronavirus has swept the region -- with shelter-in-place mandates in many major cities -- it's seen a massive boost in business. Instacart said it's had unprecedented customer demand and that its order volume has grown by more than 500% since the same time last year. But this has also meant longer wait times for customers.

"Overnight, we've become a necessity for millions of people and our teams are working tirelessly to launch new products that speed up our service and open up more delivery windows for customers," Mehta said. "We're committed to getting back to one-hour and same-day delivery speeds, and in order to do that, we're continuing to grow our shopper community to meet the surge in customer demand." 

Instacart had already recruited 300,000 more workers at the end of March to meet that demand. And on Thursday, the company said it's planning to bring on 250,000 more shoppers.

With the new shoppers coming on, Cuffaro said it's all the more important for Instacart to focus on better support for these workers. She suggested a call-in help line for sick and vulnerable workers who are having trouble.

"Instacart needs to expand its shopper support system," she said. "People are still dying from this."

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