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Coronavirus: How It Affects Truckers

Note: This article from TopMark Funding was initially published in March 2019. Information regarding the coronavirus may be different than what society knows about it now.

Coronavirus news has been ramping up in the past month on how it affects the economy and various industries, and trucking is no different. With the World Health Organization considering COVID-19 the first worldwide pandemic since H1N1 (swine flu), it is a good idea to stay informed on the Coronavirus and how it impacts you, the trucker.

Coronavirus Facts

What can be done to avoid contracting the coronavirus? One commonly popular but ineffective “method” of preventing coronavirus has been wearing facemasks. The United States Surgeon General has said this is counterintuitive. Contracting coronavirus is much more likely to happen through your hands, face, and eyes than through your mouth. At the same time, a person who has coronavirus is likely to transmit it by coughing, so buying a facemask when you are healthy only compounds the epidemic: not only do you not lower your chances of contraction, but you prevent an infected person from spreading it because they do not have a mask.

If you want to take proactive steps to avoid contracting coronavirus, the best thing you can do is wear gloves while handling objects grabbed by multiple people, such as door handles and diesel pumps. If you do not have gloves when touching these things, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer before touching personal objects such as your phone or your steering wheel.

Additionally, if you have disinfecting wipes, it is a good idea to clean yourl items. Not just for coronavirus, but other pathogens as well. You would be surprised how many microbes exist on items just by them not being cleaned often enough.

So let’s say you contract the coronavirus. Keep in mind: coronavirus is a fully recoverable disease. Like with the common flu, your body will develop antibodies to make future infections less deadly. This is also how vaccines work: they intentionally give you weaker infections your body can fight off to prevent a future infection from killing you.

If you contract coronavirus, it will take two to fourteen days before you start feeling:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Cough

This is where the face masks come into play. While they cannot help a healthy person avoid the coronavirus, they can help a sick person from spreading it. Wearing a mask or covering your mouth when you cough can lower the rate of infection significantly.

Additionally, if you feel you may have coronavirus, avoid shaking hands to reduce the spread of infection.

While the odds coronavirus will kill you are very slim, it is never fun to be sick, and as such it is in your best interest to take precautions until a vaccine is developed. Wear gloves when refueling, wash your hands before eating, and wipe down your steering wheel at least once a week.

Coronavirus Impacting Truckers Negatively

Event Cancellation

On March 12th, Mid-America Trucking Show organizers announced that they are canceling the 49th annual event due to the pandemic. The announcement comes two weeks before the event was to take place, March 26th, 27th, and 28th.

“It is with a heavy heart and deep regret that we announce the cancellation of the 2020 Mid-America Trucking Show scheduled for March 26-28 in Louisville, Kentucky,” the note states. “In light of today’s extraordinary circumstances and with an abundance of caution, this decision has been made with the health and safety of our attendees, exhibitors, employees and show partners in mind,” organizers said.

In a scenario more properly suited for a comedy sketch than reality, there was an update only a day prior saying that they still intended to host the event.

“On-site set-up for MATS 2020 has already begun and we’re looking forward to another successful event.” The post from March 11th reads. Unfortunately, they did not look forward enough.

The Mid-America Trucking Show plans to come back for its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Less Parking In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is closing its rest stops because it lacks the ability to clean them effectively in the wake of the pandemic, effective March 17th at 12:01 AM. The absurdity of the declaration lies in the restriction of parking: truckers are not allowed to park on the premises while the facilities are closed.

We here at TopMark Funding try to remain impartial and report only the facts on news when it comes to current events. We are making an exception here, this restriction of the use of rest stops simply for the sake of parking is outrageous. We understand the closing down of truck stop facilities such as restrooms and vending machines, but parking requires no maintenance. Truckers are already needed desperately across the nation to deliver goods and equipment to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic, but now when traveling through Pennsylvania, they will have a harder time than normal to find a place to rest.

With the Hours of Service rules mostly being suspended for the time being, this might seem like a non-issue, but like it or not, truckers need to sleep eventually, and driving through the state of Pennsylvania without having rest areas available for parking raises the average fatigue of truck drivers hauling freight. Some truckers may be willing to take the risk of parking on the shoulder of a freeway, but that could prove to be dangerous.

Coronavirus’ true effect on society goes far beyond the symptoms of the infected. With all of these drastic measures various governments are putting into place to stymie the rate of infection, some of them are causing indirect harm. Whether it be the cancellation of events or the shutting down of public facilities that make trucking an easier way of life, the coronavirus is putting a strain on commercial drivers beyond just fevers, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Coronavirus Impacting Truckers Positively

While the thought of catching coronavirus is unlikely to put a smile on anyone’s face, the pandemic is not all doom and gloom for the trucking industry.

An Increase in Demand

With people reacting (or overreacting) to the news about coronavirus, customers are making runs of big box stores and internet retailers alike for emergency supplies such as toilet paper, dry foods, and hand sanitizer/wipes. With demand outpacing supply as hoarders try to prepare for the worst-case scenario, truckers are needed more than ever to deliver supplies by the truckload to retailers.

The Outbound Tender Volume Index (OTVI), which measures the amount of goods being shipped via truck at any given time and has a base value of ten thousand, is currently hovering around 10,800. This is easily the highest March since the Index started tracking in 2018. It is reaching peaks normally found during the holiday season and busy summers.

Truckers had reasonable suspicion to think, with the coronavirus starting in China, that there would be less freight than normal, but it appears the opposite has happened instead. Normally, China accounts for 22% of US imports, but the increased demand for other products not commonly made in China, such as toilet paper, have been more than able to offset any current decreases in imports from Asia.

Hours of Service Suspension

This declaration, a first from the FMCSA, comes on the heels of President Trump issuing a State of Emergency due to the coronavirus.

“Because of the decisive leadership of President Trump and Secretary Chao, this declaration will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently. FMCSA is continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak and stands ready to use its authority to protect the health and safety of the American people,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen.

The one silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic (and hysteria (that may or may not be unwarranted)) is that it has been a boon to the trucking industry. People across the nation are emptying shelves in a panic. They fear they might be the ones left without hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and canned foods. This has led to an increase in demand for truck shipments normally seen only during the holiday season.

But not so fast, the suspension only applies to:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to COVID-19 (testing, diagnosis, and treatment).
  • Supplies and equipment for healthcare workers combating COVID-19 infections (gloves, hand sanitizer, etc.).
  • Food for emergency restocking of stores.
  • Equipment, supplies, and personnel for temporary housing and quarantine facilities.
  • People designated by authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes.
  • Personnel to provide emergency services.

The suspension does not mean that a driver can simply work around the clock. Once a driver completes his shipment, he must receive a minimum of eight to ten hours before driving again, depending on what the driver transported.

The FMCSA has posted the declaration in full here.

Conclusion

The coronavirus, overblown as it is, has flipped the world economy on its head, and in some ways trucks suffer and benefit from it at the same time. You can drive your big rig across Pennsylvania without needing to stop for a break, but your chances of finding a proper parking spot if you do decide to turn in is slimmer than usual. Truckers get more revenue from working, but have to miss out on conferences, conventions, and other events.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all is that truckers are generally self-quarantined for hours at a time, daily. If you have the coronavirus, or even think you have the coronavirus, you can take it easy knowing that when alone in your cabin, you are not putting anyone else in danger (except your teammate, if you have one, but once you are both infected neither of you will be putting others in danger by driving). As usual when talking about COVID-19, we at Topmark Funding highly suggest that you keep gloves with you for when you venture outside of your cabin, such as handling a diesel pump or shopping at a store.

Just remember that there is a very good chance you will live through this, and keep on trucking.

Article courtesy of TopMark Funding.

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