Coronavirus and the Ultra-Wealthy: Yacht Staffing, Live-In Doctor Requests and the New Rules of Support Staff

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One-percenters in New York City and Los Angeles are imposing stringent hygiene measures with such employees as housekeepers — who themselves "are refusing jobs now because they don’t want to be exposed" — and while staffing private boats: "The safest place to be is offshore."

With a “Safer at Home’’ executive order issued Thursday in Los Angeles and New York non-essential businesses shut down since Monday, more people have been working from home and dining in, creating a greater demand for nannies, cooks and housekeepers among a certain ultra-wealthy segment of the population. People entering a home bring potential risk, as well as expose themselves to the same, so the domestic service industry is in a new quandary.

Some people are taking hygiene concerns with hired help to an unpleasant extreme: “In my area, domestic staff is asked to strip down when they arrive, and their street clothes go into a black bag to be sanitized, while they change into a pristine uniform,’’ says a New York Upper East Sider who lives in a townhouse next door to a prominent television producer.

Many high-priced buildings in the city have put the kibosh on allowing domestic workers to even get past the doormen. One solution is to have staff move in so they can avoid traveling, particularly on public transportation. “Many clients are offering to let their nannies live-in during this pandemic,’’ says Katie Provinziano, managing director of L.A.-based Westside Nannies. “Everyone can share supplies and food and work together in a clean environment.’’

However, requesting a live-in situation isn't always a request, and also may not be welcome on the part of the employee. Workers themselves are not thrilled to be entering households with sniffling children or coughing adults. Says Melissa Psitos, owner of Lily Pond Services, a company that provides staff nationally for many people in media and entertainment: “A lot of my housekeepers are refusing jobs now because they don’t want to be exposed.’’

Adds Provinziano: “Families are not wanting nannies to work if they are seeing cold or flu symptoms, and the same goes for nannies. That being said, it is important for clients to keep paying their staff through this time, which is challenging for some people whose films and other projects have been put on hold.’’

Psitos says her duties have expanded to real estate. “People are asking me to find extra apartments or guest houses for staff so they can live in rather than be exposed to any infection,’’ she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Other families have decided to place staff on leave, in most cases paid, according to Bryan Peele, founder and president of L.A.-based Estate Managers Coalition. “It's now become, like, get rid of everyone coming to the house, cancel all vendors, cancel housekeeping staff,’’ says Peele.

Psitos is also seeing a new category of domestic help emerge. “I’ve been getting calls from clients asking for doctors and nurses willing to live-in, just in case they get sick, and so they can get easy access to testing,’’ she says.

Those who want to make absolutely sure they and their staff are social distancing are really going the extra mile, according to Psitos, who has been getting requests that are particularly odd for this time of year. “People have suddenly started asking me to staff yachts,’’ she reveals. “They have become so concerned about the virus that they feel the safest place to be is offshore.’’