As New York City works to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain ramifications are beginning to rise to the surface. Initial freight volumes surged to replenish depleted grocery stores, volumes seem to have peaked, but the spread of misinformation and fear of contagion among truck drivers has increased, and threatens to lead to challenges and potential shortages in the near future. Our CEO, Jeff Tucker, spoke with CNBC on the issue this morning. Read on to get a full picture of the issues at hand.
For months, we’ve been hearing that the elderly, immunosuppressed, and those with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19. These populations have been urged to stay at home and distance themselves from others. What many people may not realize is that, statistically speaking, the majority of truck drivers fall into this “at-risk” category. Yes, the same people who have been out on the roads since day one, delivering essential goods to the front lines, are doing so at great risk to their personal health.
The National Institutes of Health reports that 87% of truck drivers have hypertension; obesity affects the truck driver population at more than twice the national rate; and 50% of all truck drivers have diabetes. Some carriers, understandably, have significant concerns about the health of their drivers, who come in contact with others daily, and have begun taking protective measures into their own hands, issuing their drivers with personal respirators or personal protective equipment (PPE).
Given most drivers’ at-risk status, you can imagine why New York City may look particularly uninviting at the moment. But, health issues aside, confusing comments by elected officials and rogue decisions, like those Pennsylvania made when they shuttered many highway rest stops and highway restrooms, strengthening the supply chain is a bigger challenge than it should be. Closures and restrictions around truck stops are making it difficult for drivers to park, rest, eat, and use restroom facilities. Food distribution is spotty at best.
Drivers are telling us that some shippers and receivers are refusing to load them if they’ve been to New York City within the past 14 days for fear that moving goods in and out of the state may jeopardize future loads. Canadian carriers have an even stickier set of issues: they fear they may not be able to cross back into their country. According to a state of the industry report compiled by experts in the field, emerging state weight limitations and local delivery curfews also pose challenges. If the U.S. chooses to enact well-intentioned but damaging regulatory measures, such as requiring essential employees to register and obtain travel authorization with their states, it stands to reason that we may suffer the same systemic and extended supply chain disruption that China experienced.
Further complicating matters is the spread of misinformation. Some carriers have begun turning down New York freight because they heard through the rumor mill that they need special permission to haul in and out of the state (they don’t). Some thought New York City’s 14-day quarantine applied to essential workers, and it took the CDC two days to clarify that truck drivers were exempt. The government is creating a level of uncertainty from their comments and actions that needs to stop immediately. If ignored, we could risk significant supply chain issues in America’s most hard-hit communities.
What we need from our legislatures right now is a unified voice and directive that prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of those who are delivering their essential goods. Every state should open their highway restrooms to truck drivers, follow the Department of Homeland Security’s guidelines on critical infrastructure during COVID-19, and ease up on parking tickets for drivers who have nowhere to park.
Elected officials need to be more mindful of how a message may be perceived by essential workers when articulating restrictions, so as not to perpetuate the spread of misinformation among the transportation industry. And they should more regularly acknowledge and thank the truck drivers out there for their courage and continued service during this crisis. We have to do a better job for these folks. They are putting their lives on the line for us; it’s the least we can do for them.