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Is it okay to move during LA’s coronavirus outbreak?

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Los Angeles is under a stay-at-home order, but moving is considered “essential”

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East Hollywood resident Ava Marinelli and her partner were planning to find a new apartment.

“We’ve had some challenges with the management in our building,” she says. “We also really want a dog, and our building is not pet-friendly.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put those plans are on hold.

“It just didn’t feel like the right time to be out and about,” Marinelli, 25, says. “And we’re not in a situation where our lease was running out... it’s definitely not ideal, but we at least feel like we have some place to be. We have a place that’s secure for now.”

Thousands of Angelenos are likely in the same boat—stuck at home in a house or apartment they were planning to move out of this spring.

Moving companies are classified as essential under LA’s “safer-at-home” order, and many are open for business. Still, Enrique Torres, general manager of Affordable Moving, says business has dropped at least 90 percent since statewide stay-at-home orders went into effect.

Some people may have no choice but to find a new place of residence, whether because of the end of a lease agreement, a dispute with a partner or roommate, or an unsafe home environment.

“What’s left is people who need to move,” Torres says.

Those who, like Marinelli, don’t absolutely have to move may want to consider staying put. But a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health says that moving is technically “safe,” as long as residents follow best practices for social distancing, cleaning, and disinfecting.

If you are planning a move to or within the Los Angeles area in the near future, here’s what to expect—whether you’re still looking for a new place or trying to move in your things.

How do I view a new house or apartment?

This is frankly going to be a lot trickier if you don’t already have a new residence lined up. Under the city’s revised safer-at-home order, in-person showings for both apartments and homes for sale are prohibited.

Rules for the rest of Los Angeles County are only slightly less restrictive. Countywide, in-person showings are by appointment only and limited to homes that are currently vacant. Only two people—who must already live together—are allowed to tour a unit at once and must stay six feet apart from the person showing the unit.

Home shoppers and apartment hunters can still browse online listings, but will likely have to sign lease agreements or put in offers without ever setting foot in the place where they are planning to live. Even simple tasks like obtaining keys or signing documents may be tricky, given local requirements that those who don’t live with one another maintain six feet of separation.

These obstacles aren’t insurmountable, but overcoming them could be stressful, and that’s one reason some real estate agents are discouraging clients from buying for the time being.

I’ve already found my new residence. How do I move my stuff in?

Moving companies are currently permitted to operate, but you’ll need to call around to find one that’s open and available.

As essential workers, movers in the city of Los Angeles are now required to wear face coverings that can limit the spread of respiratory droplets that carry the virus from person to person. Professional movers must also be equipped with hand sanitizer or be able to wash their hands every half hour, according to orders Garcetti issued this week.

Torres says his company is washing trucks after every move and that movers are equipped with gloves as well as face masks. The company is also asking customers to wear gloves and face coverings, despite the fact that this can sometimes make lifting items more of a challenge.

Not everyone can afford to hire professional movers, which means that many people moving from one home to another will have to rely on assistance from those they live with. Asking friends and family members to come over and help out isn’t explicitly forbidden under local restrictions, but the mayor’s orders restrict visits with friends and family members except when there is an “urgent need.”

Depending on the situation, a move may in fact be urgent, but it’s still important to limit the number of people coming in and out of your house—and to ensure everyone involved in the move is washing their hands frequently, staying at least six feet apart, and wearing face coverings.

What kind of face covering should I be wearing?

Los Angeles County residents are required to wear face coverings when conducting essential business, so it will be important to have something on hand to cover your nose and mouth while moving. Local guidelines suggest scarves, bandanas, t-shirts, and towels. Officials have also stressed that residents should not use N95 respirator masks, which are reserved for frontline workers.

Should I worry about other people touching my things?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus “may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.” That means it’s important to wipe down any items that were handled during a move. The Los Angeles Public Health Department has useful guidance for cleaning and disinfecting household items.

Will I be able to find boxes?

This shouldn’t be a problem, as many of the places you’d normally look—hardware stores, moving companies, grocery stores—are considered essential businesses and are for the most part still open. Just remember that, according to the National Institutes of Health, the virus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard surfaces, so wash your hands before and after carrying boxes and wipe them down with disinfectant if you’ll be handling them again soon.

I’m moving into a high-rise. Should I take the elevator up with the movers?

There’s no local guidance on elevator use, but it’s probably best to ride solo if you are able. Doctors from Wuhan, China have advised avoiding elevator rides with other people, since the confined space makes it more likely you will inhale respiratory droplets carrying the virus. MIT professor Lydia Bourouiba tells The Atlantic that elevators in fact “pose the highest risk” of all shared residential spaces.