As COVID-19 cases swell, the trucking industry struggles to keep drivers safe
Monday, April 13, 2020
While many Americans are sheltering in their homes to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, long-haul truckers are traveling down the highways day and night delivering food, medicines and other essential goods to grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies.
But what happens if a trucker gets coronavirus or feels ill while on the road? While driving heavy or tractor-trailer trucks has always put drivers at a high risk for accidents and injuries, COVID-19 poses an added danger. But, as the pandemic rages on across the country, truckers, their employers, associations and others are working to keep them healthy.
Some trucking companies like Chattanooga-based U.S. Xpress Inc., have already formalized policies to help minimize drivers’ exposure to COVID-19.
U.S. Xpress has posted tips on its website reminding drivers to keep their distance from others and to stay in their cab as much as possible during breaks. The company also mandates that drivers report any flu-like symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 when entering a guard gate or facility lobby. Furthermore, it conducts CDC-recommended, infrared temperature checks for those who enter any of the company’s field locations.
“These daily temperature checks will accompany our existing health status questionnaires to help keep our drivers, maintenance teams, vendors and customers safe,” U.S. Xpress Chief People Officer Amanda Thompson said in a statement. “We’ll continue to monitor and take the necessary actions to protect all those in the supply chain working to support our fellow Americans.”
“Their return to the facility will be handled on a case-by-case basis in consultation with management and or human resources,” she said.
If a driver becomes ill with COVID while on the road, the company will, on a case by case basis, assess the need to provide lodging and transportation to the driver, U.S. Xpress spokesperson Mary Danielson says.
“Drivers currently have the option to either have U.S. Xpress secure a rental car for their return home where they should work with their regular doctor or local health care facility, or we will secure nearby lodging for them to recuperate,” she says.
So far, some 13 U.S. Xpress driver and non-driver employees have contracted COVID-19, Danielson says. All 13, however, are either in stable condition, recovering or have fully recovered and returned to work.
In addition, to help prevent the spread of the virus and reduce financial hardship, the company now pays drivers with COVID-19 $500 a week in emergency pay until they fully recover, Danielson says.
Another trucking company, Old Dominion Freight Line, based in Thomasville, North Carolina, says on its website that the company is following guidelines from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“This includes providing hand sanitizer and wipes, reinforcing proper hygiene practices, adding additional sanitized cleanings, restricting visitors to only those of a critical business nature, and exercising social distancing practices.”
Roadside Medical Care
One-way truckers can access medical care while on the road is through telemedicine services and roadside clinics. UrgentCareTravel (UCT), for example, operates a medical clinic network for truckers. UCT has clinics at more than a dozen Pilot and Flying J retail and fueling travel centers.
“UrgentCareTravel is readying all of its clinics with the COVID-19 test kits, personal protective equipment (PPE) and a clinic COVID-19 procedure to ensure the safety of the driver, other clinic patients and the UrgentCareTravel clinic team,” saysMitch Strobin, UCT’s senior vice president of marketing and relationship management.
In fact, UCT recently launched its telemedicine-based Driver Coronavirus Evaluation Service. With the service, drivers in the network who feel ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 can download a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine app and speak with a medical professional at a UCT clinic from their cab. The medical professional can then make an initial evaluation to determine whether the driver needs an in-person evaluation or even a test for coronavirus, Strobin says.
The service is $40, and, if the UCT provider determines that a driver should come to the clinic for further evaluation and possible COVID-19 testing, UCT applies the $40 to those costs, Strobin says.
“By providing this telemedicine service,” says Strobin, “we can meet the needs of many drivers and fleets to do that initial evaluation, and that’s just a positive for everyone.”
Associations Speak Out
Besides efforts by trucking companies and medical clinics to keep drivers healthy, some trucking associations like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) are calling on the federal government to do more to protect drivers against COVID-19 and help those who become infected.
The OOIDA, which represents 160,000 small business truckers and professional drivers, is advocating for access to testing for coronavirus for drivers. In an April 3 letter to the White House, OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer argued that independent truckers lack access to PPEs and testing as well as practical means to know when they are falling ill and solutions if they need treatment or to self-isolate.
“Access to testing must be available where they are, particularly on busy truck routes. And testing must show results in hours, not days,” Spencer said.
Spencer also called for a strategy for treating or quarantining drivers at hotels.
The previous month, on March 17, American Trucking Associations (ATA) President Chris Spear sent a letter to the White House as well asking for guidance on keeping drivers free of COVID-19 and making testing available.
Spear wrote, “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.”
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