As coronavirus infections spread across the country, truck drivers are finding themselves stranded without a clear protocol for what to do if they think they might have COVID-19.
Although CDC guidance calls for all individuals who think they have symptoms to quarantine or self-isolate, the directive is not so easy to follow when the driver is hundreds of miles from home, can’t stay in a hotel for 14 days for fear of infecting others, and has a load that must be delivered as quickly as possible.
Contributing to the problem is that many truck stop medical clinics are not offering coronavirus testing. And even if drivers do get tested, it can take one to three days to get results.
Trucking groups are “struggling to find a system for quarantine — how to assess if drivers are well enough to stay at home, and how they are going to get supplies,” said Ross Castile, director of marketing for DOT STOP Urgent Care, an independent medical clinic in Plymouth, Indiana.
“It’s pretty much a nightmare,” Castile said.
Without clear guidance, many carriers are developing their own plans for managing driver illness as well as supply chain impacts.
Rick Williams, CEO of Central Oregon Truck Co., told FreightWaves he is currently working on “a robust policy of guidelines regarding how to manage various scenarios.” He declined to reveal specifics.
Summarizing a few responses she has received from carriers, Jana Jarvis, head of the Oregon Trucking Associations, said protocols vary depending on where on the route the driver begins feeling sick, and how sick they are, but includes having them deadhead home if they are close and immediately quarantine themselves.
Some carriers are arranging for drivers to see a doctor and secure lodging and hospital services while on the road, Jarvis said.
An email from David Robinson, a partner with Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, echoed some of these principles. Generally speaking, carriers should “separate” the driver from the load as soon as possible, he said.
“This would involve instructing the driver to halt in place and by sending another driver in another truck to pick up the trailer and continue the delivery.” Safety professionals would then need to interview the driver to determine his or her ability to return to the terminal.
If the company feels confident that the driver has symptoms but is otherwise physically qualified to drive, they can instruct the driver to return the truck to the terminal and then return home.
But if the carrier is “in any way” not confident in the driver’s ability, the company should tell the driver to seek immediate medical attention, Robinson wrote.
One of the major stumbling blocks associated with coronavirus planning is lack of accessible medical facilities for drivers to keep the industry working during the crisis.
Ninety percent of truck stop clinics are staffed or maintained by chiropractors doing physicals, said Bob Stanton, head of Truckers for a Cause. “Chiropractors can’t do anything for you.”
Founded in opposition to sleep regulations, Stanton’s group is putting together a list of truck stop or semi truck-accessible medical clinics that would be able to serve drivers with COVID-19 symptoms.
It’s a frustrating task, he said.
Plus, although a growing number of clinics offer telemedicine services allowing the driver to call in from the road, “the problem is once the doctor says you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you’ve got to get someplace to self-isolate.”
At that point, he said, drivers “are on their own.”
Mirroring the challenges facing the country at large, lack of testing continues to stymie industry efforts to contain and control the virus.
David Smerina, owner of Infinity Medical Services, a clinic located next to a Petro truck stop in Bordentown, New Jersey, said he has been trying to contact the state health department about securing testing kits “but it is hours on the phone and no one answers,” he said.
Once he procures the kits, Smerina plans to set up a testing site outside the clinic, pending Petro’s approval. He hosted a similar program couple of years ago testing for hepatitis, he said.
Castile’s clinic has ordered coronavirus kits, and once they arrive, a testing facility will be set up in the clinic parking lot. A new telemedicine service went live today, he said.
For their part, carriers developing protocols are zeroing in on one common directive — “They all have a plan in place to recover the truck,” Jarvis said, including isolating the vehicle for a period of time “before having it cleaned and sanitized.”