As soon as clients cross the threshold into her apartment, Ailiyah, a Miami-based sex worker, greets them with a thermometer and a bottle of hand sanitizer. On occasion, a mandatory shower is also required.
Since the sex business is illegal in Florida, no government agency has created protocols. In Nevada, where sex work is legal, brothels remain closed. So Ailiyah designed her own safety protocol, and now stringently carries it out to try to keep the raging pandemic at bay.
“I can’t tell people what to do on the outside, but when you come into my space I want to protect myself at all costs,” said Ailiyah, a Black trans woman in her 20s who requested her last name be withheld.
Clients, many of whom are maskless when they arrive, seem less perturbed by the virus than she is.
“I don’t think really any of them are concerned, so it’s been really scary,” she said. “But I’m a hustler first. I still engage in sex work because at the end of the day I need to pay my bills.”
For Ailiyah, and for the estimated hundreds of thousands of other people in the U.S. who rely on full-service sex work to put food on the table, COVID-19 has emerged as an almost existential threat.