No matter the day, time or circumstance, the trucking industry remains on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, carrying supplies for days on end.
Theresa Ross, of Coaldale, drives for Wegmans out of Pottsville, and is on the road as early as 2 a.m.
“It’s scary; it’s challenging,” Ross said. “You have to, when you’re used to being around people all day long around stores and being able to greet people and talk to them face to face, you can’t do that. “You keep your distance. And anybody that you’re around, you’re leery; you have to be.”
They are the people behind the scenes we can’t do without.
“If something happens with us drivers out here on the road, if we get ill, then folks all over the country, they’re not going to get their product, their food, their toilet paper, the things they need. If we can’t be out there driving because we’re sick because someone came to one of the stores sick, or the truck stop sick and they spread it to us, we can’t be out here doing our job to get it to them.”
The adjustment has been “a little challenging” for Ross, who likes to shake hands and high-five people at the store.
Now she holds back. “I don’t even like to go into the stores to do my shopping unless I’m one of the first people in the store.”
Ross goes to the store early in the morning.
“I’ve been in the store standing in line at a checkout and had people coughing within 6 feet of me,” she said. “It’s scary, it is a challenge, and you concern yourself with bringing it home to your family.”
That’s a concern because her husband has a lung problem.
“That worries me; I take extra precaution, I wear rubber gloves, carry sanitation in my pocket, you strip down when you get home,” she said. “Everything in your life is different; you have a new norm.”
Her job takes her anywhere to Virginia; Maryland; Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey.
Ross said truck drivers are allowed to drive 16 hours now, which represents another new normal.
“I do anywhere from 10 to 14 hours a day and six days a week,” she said. “We’re allowed to work 7 days if we want.”
That, Ross said, “can certainly take a toll on you.”
“But, you do it because I love my job, I love what I do,” she said. “I love truck driving, love the people I work for; it gives me some satisfaction knowing I can help someone.”
Ross said she has her own term for the COVID-19.
“Everyone calls it a pandemic; I call it pandemonium,” she said. “There are a lot of us out here that are doing whatever we can to help the people who can’t be at work; it’s not just us truck drivers, but everybody from warehouse workers to health care. I give kudos to every single one of them who’s out there. In my own way I pray for every one of us who is out here.”
But Ross cautioned that it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to ensure the safety of others.
“Let’s try to do our part, and that’s everybody, that’s all of us,” she said. “Let’s get through this.”
Bill Gothard, of Lehighton, drives for YRC Transportation in Bethlehem.
He’s been driving for 30 years, with his current route to Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.
“I have the same run every day, so I’m home every night,” Gothard said. “It’s definitely taking a toll on freight right now; a lot of these places can’t get their product because a lot of their customers are on lockdown, and the orders, they just can’t ship them.”
Add the warehouses and shipping locations. “These places are going to fill up with orders that need to go,” he said. “And when this thing is over, it’s going to be crazy.”
For Gothard, who carries anything from beer to corrugated boxes to chemicals such as hazmat cylinders, said it’s pretty much been “the same normal routine.”
“Except for the (way the) new change of life is right now, where everything has to be sanitized,” he said. “It’s just everyone’s got their own way of doing it; they practice social distancing, and sanitation and disinfection, and I have a feeling this is going to be the (new) normal, even after this is over.”
Gothard said it’s imperative for people to follow the guidelines that have been established.
“As long as we practice social distancing, and we sanitize our hands and things we touch, we have to use gloves,” he said.
First to respond
Kevin Stewart, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, said, “I always say the men and women are out there are delivering America.
“They’re always the first to respond when it comes to emergencies, natural disasters, the first ones after the first responders on scene to be able to provide essential services and goods.”
Stewart said he believes the drivers are doing as well as they can, while attempting to limit their exposure.
“The drivers are still making their stops into New York City and those hot spots, and they need to be applauded for their hard work and their efforts.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines have changed protocols.
“I know some of the shipper facilities and the loading docks are starting to look at ways to use electronic documents, things to avoid that human-to-human contact and do things electronically,” Stewart said. “They’re looking at social distancing, like loading and unloading a freight, taking the CDC recommendation seriously.”
Limited product availability affects trucks, too.
“One of the biggest challenges I think they are having is finding masks and hand sanitizers and gloves; certainly that becomes a challenge much like the health care facilities are having to find that personal equipment,” he said. “The other challenge becomes food availability out on the roadways; some of the fast food places have certainly started to look at things differently (because) the drivers were really struggling trying to get food because they weren’t allowing walk-ups at drive-thrus; some of them are starting to recognize that and change to be able to provide some of our drivers some food.”
Gerald Deetz of Macungie echoed that. With restaurants being closed, takeout food on the road is limited
He makes runs from Maine to South Carolina and here to Michigan, being on the road for weeks at a time, paying for showers on the road.
“We’re out here running this stuff constantly,” said Deetz, who runs a website to educate truckers.
Stewart also discussed the closing of rest areas in Pennsylvania when the pandemic first started.
“Pennsylvania closed all of those. Since then, they opened 28 of 30, and that’s been extremely helpful for them be able to get that much-needed rest,” he said.
Theresa Ross, of Coaldale, outside her Wegmans truck that she has driven for nearly three years as the trucking industry continues to remain on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
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