19 October 2020

Coronavirus leaves many Capital Region workers looking to pass time, make money

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ALBANY — Daniel Padgett used to work three different gigs to make ends meet.

But two of them were dependant on large numbers of people being able to gather in one area. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Padgett, 38, is no longer able to work for the valet or audio/visual rental services he used to supplement his income.

Now, he’s gone from spending 15 hours per week driving for ride-share companies to 45 hours per week — a few dozen rides to more than 100. He’s not sure how long that will last, and is afraid he’ll get the same phone call from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that many of his peers have received: telling him that he’s come into contact with a passenger who’s tested positive for COVID-19, and ordering him to stop driving.

“Every day, there’s more drivers that are getting a phone call that they have to stay home,” Padgett said. “Then that’s the end of them for two weeks.”

Nearly 370,000 people statewide have filed for unemployment insurance amid the coronavirus pandemic, the State Labor Department reported Thursday. But many more like Padgett and others in the gig economy have found themselves falling between the cracks of the state’s unemployment system, and scrambling to find ways to supplement their income — or even pass the time.

There are several reasons why Padgett says he continues to drive for ride-share. He said he’s not holding his breath for government support but he also doesn’t want to just sit at home and stare at his wall.

Finally, Padgett said, he feels like he’s doing his part to help his community by delivering food, or giving essential workers and those shopping for groceries a ride to their destinations. Some essential workers have told Padgett that they’ve had to wait nearly an hour to be picked up because of a lack of drivers still on the road.

“The least I can do is bring McDonald’s to someone at Albany Med, or give them a ride home after their shift,” he said. But he misses the entertainment and conversation that comes with shuttling college students to and from their weekend bar runs. Passengers these days are gloomy, he said — though for good reason.

“I miss my happy people, but it’s still nice to be driving,” he said.

Christi Martin 31, is also used to keeping busy, having worked two jobs since she was 16 years old. She has a mortgage, a student-loan balance exceeding $40,000, and a wedding and honeymoon to look forward to in a few months.

But the Malta bar where she worked weekends has been forced to shut down. Though Martin works from home during the week as an auditor for a state agency, she finds her weekends are now much slower.

“There’s only so much you can do because there’s not really anything to do,” she said.

Martin now spends her weekend outside when she can; she’s run the gamut of every sport available, from football to basketball to softball to golf to whiffle ball.

“We try to stay as busy as we can,” she said, “But I’m going insane not being able to do stuff on the weekends.”

Amy Smith, a dental hygienist from Poestenkill, found an unique way to give back after the practice where she worked shut down: she has joined a Facebook group of local seamstresses who now volunteer their time sewing masks to donate to healthcare workers and grocery store clerks.

It’s a team effort with her daughter and husband, and they can make about 50 masks in a three-day period.

“It’s been nice to connect with her and do things with her,” Smith said. “I’m a worker bee and just really enjoy the opportunity to give back.”

Michael.Williams@timesunion.com

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