Truck drivers are enjoying a boom in popularity as they deliver critical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic and the industry receives positive media exposure. At the same time, drivers are experiencing increased exposure to health risks associated with the coronavirus — and personal protective equipment, including protective masks, is in short supply.
To help protect these essential workers, about 800,000 masks are slated for distribution to truck drivers at six rest stops along the nation’s high-volume trucking lanes. The effort is coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to Landline Media, a news website operated by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).
The six distribution points include the following rest areas:
- California: Interstate 5 northbound in Los Angeles;
- Georgia: Interstate 75, southbound at mile marker 179 just north of Macon;
- Illinois: Interstate 80/Interstate 294 eastbound at mile marker 1 in Chicago;
- Nebraska: Interstate 80 westbound at mile marker 431 near Omaha;
- New York: Interstate 87 northbound at mile marker 33 just north of New York City; and
- Texas: Interstate 35 northbound at mile marker 362A about 5 miles south of Hillsboro.
Distribution dates have not been released, and more distribution points are expected to be added as need is determined.
On April 3, OOIDA reached out to the White House asking President Donald Trump to provide truck drivers with personal protective equipment, access to COVID-19 testing along trucking routes, rapid test results, and treatment and quarantine facilities.
“(The drivers’) hard work and personal sacrifice should not include their health or even their lives, if at all possible or preventable,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA president and CEO, in the letter. “Once word spreads that drivers are testing positive, we could very well see a tremendous reduction in drivers willing to risk everything for the rest of us.”
Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of safety and security, said the move to provide masks for truck drivers “has been a long time coming,” according to a Landline Media story.
“The distribution of this (personal protective equipment) is a direct response to OOIDA’s letter to the president asking for PPE for truck drivers,” Morris said. “They are continuing to work on other pressing needs, such as hand sanitizer and additional testing.”
In an April 20 interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans on “The Exchange,” Spencer said he believes the COVID-19 relief programs designed to help small businesses have, for the most part, “missed” many drivers, most of whom work in fleets of 20 or less trucks.
“The rates that they receive for hauling goods have pretty much been cut in half. They’re facing a real economic crisis to be able to continue to operate, not to mention the fact that they actually are on the front line in the battle against coronavirus,” Spencer said.
“Realistically, truckers are first responders,” he continued. “Our whole economy runs on trucks. Everything that we need, the vital things in the stores, they only get there by truck. … (Truck drivers) go everywhere. They go into hot zones. And we think there ought to be greater efforts made to provide PPE to them, because we really want to keep them on the job and we don’t want to get them infected.”