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What you need to know about moving during the coronavirus pandemic

Moving is considered an essential activity in Pennsylvania, so residents are allowed to move, and moving companies are allowed to operate.

Melissa McCleery, who is in the process of moving from one house to another during the coronavirus pandemic, carries her pillows to her vehicle in Philadelphia, on March 30, 2020.
Melissa McCleery, who is in the process of moving from one house to another during the coronavirus pandemic, carries her pillows to her vehicle in Philadelphia, on March 30, 2020.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Even under the best of circumstances, moving to a new home is stressful. But these are not the best of circumstances.

“Things are uncertain, which has made everything weird,” said Melissa McCleery, who is preparing to move just three blocks from her current home in South Philadelphia. “Moving is stressful anyway, but it’s a lot to handle.”

McCleery is lucky: She’s not moving far. Others, however, may have more to deal with. Finding a new place, packing, loading, and setting up your new home — virtually every aspect of a typical move has been upended.

But don’t panic. It’s still possible. Here is what you need to know about moving during the coronavirus pandemic:

Can you move right now?

Yes. Moving is considered an essential activity in Philadelphia, said Lauren Cox, deputy communications director for the city, so residents are allowed to move, and moving companies are allowed to operate. That’s true across Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Health. And you’re free to move both into and out of the city.

Should you move?

Not if you don’t have to. The American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) says that if you can, reschedule until after the pandemic, especially if you are older or immuno-compromised, marketing director Rachel Peretz said. Of course, not everyone will have that luxury.

“Health and safety is important,” Peretz said. “If they can’t put it off, it’s safe to move. Some people don’t have a choice.”

If you want to cancel or reschedule, AMSA recommends reaching out to your movers early. And if you get sick, Danielle Rankin of Gentle Giant Moving Co. said, try to reschedule your move by at least 14 days.

Are moving and storage companies still operating?

Services connected to an essential activity such as moving are able to stay open even in counties where stay-at-home orders are in place, though they should follow CDC and Health Department guidelines “at all times,” Cox said.

Locally, larger moving companies such as Gentle Giant, Two Men and a Truck, and Bellhops are still operating — as are storage companies such as U-Haul and Pods. Not all movers are open: Some, including Broad Street Movers and Mambo Movers, have temporarily suspended operations.

» READ MORE: Can I get the coronavirus from mail or food delivery? The risk is tiny, and you can make it even smaller.

Rankin noted that although Gentle Giant is open for business, it has seen a decrease in volume. “No one wants to move unless they have to,” she said.

How are moving companies working?

AMSA advises moving companies to practice increased hygiene and cleanliness to protect both employees and customers. That means wearing gloves and masks, washing hands regularly, using hand sanitizer, cleaning trucks more often, and giving estimates online or by phone. And, Peretz says, consumers should have a sink with paper towels and soap for crews.

Individual companies have made other changes. Gentle Giant is also focusing on minimizing contact among crews and customers, including asking customers to leave their homes while the move is happening. Crew members will travel separately to jobs and are being asked to stay home if they feel sick.

And handshakes are, obviously, out. “We have a policy of greeting customers with a handshake, but crews are instructed not to do this at this time,” Rankin said.

What if you want to move yourself?

Like McCleery, you can use your own vehicle to move, but if you need to rent something larger, you’re still in luck. Moving truck rental outlets such as U-Haul and Penske are essential businesses, too.

Many have made changes: Penske and U-Haul both said they are beefing up sanitization procedures for its facilities, trucks, and equipment. U-Haul vice president of communications Sebastien Reyes said that between truck rentals, the company is sanitizing steering wheels, door handles, radio and temperature control knobs, keys and key fobs, and seats and seat belts.

Can you tour a new home?

In a word, no. As per Gov. Tom Wolf’s order that only life-sustaining businesses remain open, real estate companies were required to suspend in-person showings and open houses. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors reiterates that directive, saying agents “must not perform in-person real estate services” and “should only offer services that can be done remotely without being physically present.”

Virtual tours, however, are still possible, the association said online, through photographs or videos, or with the seller doing a live video walk-through.

What about moving supplies?

“Getting boxes is no small feat right now,” McCleery said. She found some at Sprouts Market before the pandemic hit Philadelphia and bought more from Home Depot.

AMSA cautions against reusing boxes from places such as supermarkets now. According to the National Institutes of Health, the coronavirus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and two to three days on plastic.

“Not right now,” Peretz says of using recycled boxes. “Get new moving boxes.”

Some movers offer regularly sanitized plastic bins, which could be another option for movers. Or look for new boxes at such places as Home Depot, U-Haul, and Amazon.

After the move: Can you get internet and utilities hooked up?

Utilities including gas, power, and water are life-sustaining businesses under Wolf’s order, and nobody with whom The Inquirer spoke for this article reported significant difficulties in getting those services hooked up. Philadelphia Gas Works says it will accept calls for requests to turn on service, while PECO indicated it does not “foresee any issues meeting our customers’ energy needs.”

» READ MORE: Post offices, banks, water: How the coronavirus is affecting essential services across the region

Telecommunications companies also are considered life-sustaining, though some have made changes. Verizon will schedule installations for their services but also confirm with customers that no one in their household has been diagnosed with the coronavirus or is under quarantine. And the company will minimize in-home installation work for the safety of employees and customers. Comcast is doing the same, by completing necessary connection work outside of customers’ homes and leaving a package with equipment and activation instructions.

Kevin Tustin, who was to move from Delaware County to Montgomery County on Saturday, said that getting an internet hookup in his new home has been difficult and that Verizon has delayed setup until May 8. McCleery, however, said getting internet in her new home from Verizon seemed “normal” — so your results may vary.

What about furniture?

Furniture stores are not considered life-sustaining businesses; they are closed to in-store shopping. Online shopping is still available; some stores even provide in-store pickup for online orders. Otherwise, you may be stuck waiting for items.

Tustin said the combination of his internet trouble and closed stores has put him at a particular standstill. So he has delayed staying at his new home full time for now.

“I figured no furniture, no internet — I’m going to be sitting in an empty box for a month,” he said. “That’s not how I wanted my first apartment to be. It sucks, but what are you going to do.”

What should you do first in your new home?

“If someone is moving into a new home, before they move in, they should deep clean it,” AMSA’s Peretz said, and follow CDC cleaning guidelines, paying special attention to high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, and handles. Clean with soap and water, disinfectants, or diluted bleach.

McCleery plans to follow similar guidelines, even cleaning the items she is moving.

“We want to make sure everything is clean and sanitized,” she said.

Expert sources:

  1. Lauren Cox, deputy communications director for the City of Philadelphia.

  2. Rachel Peretz, marketing director for the American Moving & Storage Association.

  3. Danielle Rankin, marketing director for Gentle Giant Moving Co.