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COVID-19 puts truck drivers in high demand for transport of crucial goods

COVID-19 and truckers
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Truck drivers are among those on the front lines as the U.S. fights through the COVID-19 outbreak. As demand for driver services skyrocketed, getting the job done became more complicated for some.

Between stocking grocery stores and delivering critical supplies to hospitals, the trucking industry is a driving force in keeping the country operational.

“They're doing that sometimes at their peril, but they're doing that to make sure that our grocery stores shelves, our pharmacy shelves are stocked, that our physicians have the tools that they need,” Mickey Blashfield, president of Michigan’s Trucking Association, said.

Blashfield referred to truck drivers as highway heroes. He said demand for drivers was at an all time high.

He said as COVID-19 limits or closes certain businesses, like restaurants, truck drivers can face new challenges. He used Pennsylvania as an example, where the state ordered the closure of all of its rest stops.

The closures made it difficult for truck drivers to find usable restrooms or pull over to rest.

On Thursday, the state reopened 13 of its 30 rest stops to provide some relief.

“They need a safe place to pull over, a safe place to log their time off the clock from behind the wheel. All of those things you might not think of in the first instance,” said Blashfield.

On March 13, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration loosened restrictions on drivers hauling emergency loads, including medical and sanitary supplies. While truck drivers would normally be restricted to 11 hours of drive time a day, drivers carrying emergency goods would not have a restriction on how many hours they could drive.

Under the declaration, drivers must get a minimum of 10 hours off.

As COVID-19 continued to spread, drivers also risked contracting the virus while on the job. Paw Paw truck driver Cody Sharpe said bringing the illness home to his 4-year-old son was his biggest fear.

“It’s kind of scary, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “We’re in an out of places everyday, so the chances of us getting sick is kind of high.”

Sharpe said in light of the virus, he’d been extra diligent in keeping his cab clean, but the risk remained.

Blashfield said he was proud of the diligence drivers showed during the pandemic.

“They’re going up time with their families, they’re giving up the opportunity to reflect on this situation,” he said. “They’re just like other first responders. They’re really going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Blashfield said the best help the community could show for truck drivers was gratitude.

“You can thank them and you can even go the extra mile and pay it forward. Buy their lunch for them, that will surprise them and let them know that you appreciate the fact that if they got it, a truck brought it,” he said.

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