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

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Michigan is under a stay-at-home order, but moving is still considered “essential”

Inside a hi-rise apartment with views of the city out the large windows. A white couch faces two white chairs with a glass coffee table in between. Photo by Michelle Gerard

An executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has directed all Michigan residents to stay at home through at least the end of April in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). But what if you have to literally change homes?

The only businesses allowed to remain open under the stay-at-home order are those deemed essential to sustaining life or part of a “critical infrastructure” field, like the food industry or law enforcement. Moving, you may be surprised to learn, is also considered essential.

While Detroit’s housing market has essentially been put on pause, suppressing sales and therefore limiting moves, some people can’t wait.

“We’re still getting a lot of calls,” says Andrew Androff, co-owner of Metro Detroit–based Professional Movers.com. “Some people still have to move—they’re in a situation where they have no choice. They may be seniors living with multiple people and needing to isolate or someone whose lease is ending. If they could move themselves, they obviously would, but they’re physically unable to and looking for professionals to take care of the heavy lifting.”

While there’s no guaranteed method of preventing infection, companies are instituting changes to the moving process to sanitize, limit contact, and prevent infection. For Detroiters wondering if it’s possible to move safely, here are answers to your most pressing questions.

Can I view a new house or apartment?

Technically no. The stay-at-home order explicitly prohibits movement between residences and realtor associations are telling brokers to cancel private showings. Some agents and property managers are getting creative with virtual tours and other ways to transition the process to remote settings. It might be possible to tag along on an inspection, if you get that far in the homebuying process.

But you may have to sign a lease or put in an offer without ever setting foot in the place where you’re planning to live.

How does moving work now? What kinds of precautions are being put in place?

Androff says Professional Movers.com has completely overhauled the moving process to make it safer.

Instead of an in-person assessment, his company now does a virtual survey of the house, with the client giving them a tour by video. On the day of the move, a dispatcher takes the temperature of the team members and asks them three questions: “Do you have any symptoms? Have you traveled in the last 14 days? Have you had any close contact with confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases?” If they don’t have a fever and answer “no” to all three, they enter the office and stand on designated spots six feet apart to get paperwork for the job.

Upon arriving at the house, the team members do a wellness check of the client as well. Then they move the furniture and boxes like normal, except while wearing face shields and gloves, and applying hand sanitizer. Lastly, instead of signing the final invoice by pen, the customer can opt to send an email confirmation of service provided. They also deep clean the truck after each use.

Other companies, like Two Men and a Truck, provide detailed explanations of precautionary measures on their websites.

What should I be doing during and after the move?

Androff says the client can stay in the house, but are asked to be in a separate room from the movers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus “may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials,” so wiping your furniture with sanitizer is probably advisable.

Will I be able to find boxes?

It shouldn’t be a problem. Most places that carry boxes—like hardware stores, moving companies, and grocery stores—are considered essential businesses and still open for the most part.

Just curious, how has this affected the moving industry?

Androff says that thanks to his company’s proactive approach, no clients or employees have contracted COVID-19. There has been a cost associated with the new measures, and the residential business hasn’t been nearly as robust as before the pandemic, but Professional Movers.com has an office moving division that services the healthcare industry keeping them afloat.

“We’re certainly not setting records by any means, but we’ve been able to keep team members active and stay busy the last few weeks,” he says. “That’s just the cost of being in business right now. We’re fortunate to be an essential business, and the last thing I would do is complain because others are in a much more challenging situation.”