Over the past few days, the country has sprung into action to try and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the coronavirus which has popped up in over 100 countries, infected over 200,000, and killed at least 8,648 by the last count. Doctors, nurses, first responders, some volunteers, and even grocery store employees have been designated as “essential” workers. But as with most disasters, truck drivers are largely unsung heroes driving the coronavirus response.
Truck drivers are more vulnerable to the coronavirus on average than the general population. Truckers can’t do their jobs remotely. And a boom of freight demand caused by shoppers stripping stores of necessary items has led to record wait times to unload in parts of the country. Despite that, the vast majority of truckers are still working every single day.
“We got into trucking 13 years ago, and specifically the pharmaceutical division, to help people in times like this because we know they need their medication,” Deb LaBree told FreightWaves.
“We haul medicine that has to move no matter what,” said LaBree, who runs team with her husband, Del. “No, we can’t quarantine ourselves 100%, but we have always been conscientious of sanitary practices — but we are even more so now.”
It’s not just pharmaceutical loads that desperately need to get where they’re going. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that they are suspending trucking Hours of Service (HOS) requirements for emergency supplies of all kinds. That includes not only items like face masks, hand sanitizer, and medical supplies, but also food, fuel, and the raw goods used to make all of the above.
Drivers face contracting the virus every time they fill up their tanks, use public restrooms, or even just use a pen provided by a shipper or receiver to sign paperwork – not to mention any time they are within 6 feet of any other human being.
While the risk of exposure and the potential severity of the illness is greater for truckers, driver who fall ill are finding it difficult to get tested for the virus. Many drive-through testing facilities that have popped up around the country have been set up to cater to cars, not large trucks. Many temporary testing clinics don’t have truck parking available.
There are some facilities that do offer testing to truckers including urgent care centers and medical facilities that normally cater to OTR drivers. But these locations are limited to the maximum of 20 test kits per site that other medical facilities are currently restricted to – a far cry for what may be needed.
America badly needs the freight that truckers bring every single day, so America badly needs truckers. And right now, that means truckers keep themselves healthy, not only for themselves, but for the sake of the entire country.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) has sent a letter to President Trump and Vice President Pence asking for clear healthcare guidance, assistance with resolving the truck parking problem, and help on other issues that “assure that trucks are able to continue to safely deliver medicine, food, fuel, water and other basic necessities to communities and homes.”
“Absent policies like these, it will be more difficult to ensure that the shelves are stocked and emergency supplies reach first responders and medical personnel,” reads the ATA letter. “The efforts to keep us safe, healthy and supplied are shared by government, private citizens and businesses alike. Trucking will continue to do its part in these difficult times. In this current crisis, we ask for your help in supplying America, together.”
“When this pandemic is over, I hope truckers that were a huge part of keeping America moving and the shelves stocked realize they have achieved hero status in my book,” LaBree told FreightWaves.