Back in March, when there was still a great deal of uncertainty about the novel coronavirus pandemic, a pair of Kansas City-based lease operators contracted COVID-19 while on the road. Husband-and-wife team Chanté and Chris Drew, age 47 and 48 respectively, had nowhere to go to avoid one another, and they were unable to find testing or medical help while on the road. The only thing they knew for certain was they didn't want to die in a strange hospital 900 miles from home.
They survived, but both still suffer recurring symptoms. Despite a clean bill of health from their doctor, Chris still has chest and joint pain, and no sense of smell. Chanté still has gastrointestinal issues and fatigue, and her blood sugar and cholesterol levels fluctuate wildly.
The pair were locked down home for nearly a month with no income, which nearly buried them financially. This story, however, ends fairly well. They are back at work, trying to rebuild their financial house and doing the best they can to manage the recurring symptoms. Others have not been so fortunate.
We talked to the couple for a special bonus episode of the HDT Talks Trucking podcast, "Surviving COVID-19," which you can hear in its entirety on your favorite podcast platform.
Chris says he first noticed symptoms in late March. They were in Phoenix at the time and headed to Nogales, Arizona, for a reload when he started feeling odd.
"I had started feeling achy after the fifth day in Phoenix," he told HDT. "I was getting aches and my joints, you know, my elbows, my neck, my knees and everything. It wasn't until we got down to Nogales that I started thinking, okay, I've caught something."
At the time, they had no masks or other protective equipment, and they couldn't find any such equipment in stores anywhere. While en route from Nogales to Long Island, New York, they found a mask at a TA travel center in Texas. "We used that mask and did the social distancing and all that stuff from then on out, but at that point, I was already sick," he says. "So, it's kind of too little too late."
It was nine days from the time Chris suspected he had COVID-19 until they got home to Kansas City and were able to schedule a test. Chanté, of course, was living, driving, eating and sleeping with her husband, and fully expected she'd come down with an infection, too. How can you avoid the other person in the cab of a truck?
"I'll be honest, I was scared as hell," Chanté says. "I knew I was gonna get it. We tried to distance as much as we could. We usually stop for least four to six hours at night so we can get good sleep without the truck moving. Usually we both sleep in the top bunk, but I ended up sleeping on the bottom with Chris up top. There's no hiding in a semi-truck."
The couple tried to find a place to get tested but had no luck. They were near Rochester, New York, at the time, but there was no place for truck driver testing anywhere within a 400-mile radius that would a let them in with a semi.
They finally got home on Saturday, April 11, and managed to book a test three days later. Three days after that the results came back. He was positive, she was not. Local experts acknowledged she had the virus based on her symptoms but blamed the false-negative results on bad sample taking.
They spent most of the next three weeks in bed, locked down to be sure, but basically unable to get up and function. At one point, Chris felt bad enough to go to the emergency room. “The amount of fear and reaction I saw when I walked in and said I had COVID… having been a nurse, I was like, ‘This is scaring the shit out of me.’ I’d never seen fellow medical personnel that scared of a patient before.”
Financial Double Whammy
As if the health issue weren’t enough, three weeks without pay created a financial double whammy. Chris and Chanté had come back from the East Coast with a couple of poor-paying loads under their belt, so their financial situation going into the month-long lockdown was precarious at best. They made arrangements with the utility companies to skip a payment. Their carrier, Barlow Trucklines of Faucett, Missouri, cut them some slack on their truck payments, but their landlord wasn't so charitable. They had to seek assistance from the St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund to make their rent.
They looked into the federal paycheck protection program but got nowhere with that.
"When we first heard about the paycheck protection program, I was going to apply for it, but that's when the first round ran out," Chanté says. "There was another one too, the Small Business grant, the ILD loan I think it was. But that ran out as well. And there was a lot of confusion around that one. Was it a loan? Was it a grant? Did we have to pay it back? Was it taxable?"
"There seemed to be a lot of strange stipulations attached to that one," Chris says. "It wasn't very clear how it could be used or applied. Like everything with this administration, there has been no concise information on anything. Nobody has made a decisive decision on anything. We have just been floating around not knowing where we stand or how to do things. That has been really upsetting for us."
This story ends fairly well. Chanté and Chris are back at work, but still struggling with recurring symptoms. They now have more protective equipment on the truck, and they are still above water financially. The big problem for the pair now is knowing how long the symptoms will last and when it all will end.
"That's the problem," says Chris. "This is all so new, nobody knows."