Before cloth masks were widely available, truckers like this one from Roadmaster made do with...

Before cloth masks were widely available, truckers like this one from Roadmaster made do with what was at hand.

Photo: Roadmaster

We’re all tired of trying to keep at least 6 feet away from other people, washing our hands so often they crack and bleed, buying hand sanitizer in bulk from local distilleries, and wearing face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

But we can’t let our guard down.

The spring lockdowns had some success in “flattening the curve,” while also flattening the economy. But that apparently gave much of the country a false sense of security, and when the economy started reopening around Memorial Day, many people went back to life as normal, packing bars and restaurants, arguing on social media that wearing a mask violated their freedoms, and claiming the whole pandemic was overblown by Democrats seeking to unseat President Trump.

The results? Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that we more than doubled the number of new confirmed cases per day, from 33,000 during the spring peak in mid-April to more than 74,000 this week.

While part of that increase was due to more testing, the percentage of those tests that were positive was also rising, nearing 9%, according to numbers tracked by the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. So the sheer number of tests alone is not the only reason for the alarming rise in the number of cases.

On July 21, the U.S. recorded more than 1,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus for the first time since May. That number had been falling after peaking at over 2,000 in mid-April, but deaths began trending upward again in early July as states such as California, Texas, and Florida saw the pandemic rampage through their states, with hospitals converting parts of their emergency rooms to ICUs and some Texas cities bringing in refrigerated trailers for morgue overflow.

More than 140,000 people had died of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of July 21.

Compare that to:

  • The number of people who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001: 2,977
  • The number who died in “large truck crashes in 2018, the most recent numbers available: 4,136 (This figure includes any medium- or heavy-duty truck.).
  • The number of people who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2019, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates: 36,120.

Think about everything we have done to try to protect our country from more terrorist attacks and to reduce the number of highway deaths. Are we doing all we can to reduce deaths from COVID-19?

Focusing on Face Coverings

As I write this, there appears to be growing momentum for widespread use of face coverings and masks to slow the spread of the virus. It’s about time.

Months ago, on April 3, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended that Americans wear a cloth face covering in public to prevent the spread of the disease, saving medical-grade masks for medical professionals. But there has been widespread pushback on the use of masks.

Admittedly, some of this is due to confusion. Early advice from the CDC and many medical professionals, before much was understood about how COVID-19 spreads, advised against the general public using masks.

But the medical community learned that unlike some other coronaviruses, the new variant that causes COVID-19 can spread when people have no symptoms. Wearing a mask or cloth face covering helps prevent asymptomatic or presymptomatiic carriers from spreading the virus to others when the virus hitches a ride on tiny droplets when they breathe, talk, sing, yell, cough, sneeze, etc.

In fact, if 95% of Americans wore face masks in public, it could prevent more than 45,000 deaths by Nov. 1, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield in a July 14 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

That editorial reviewed the latest science on fact coverings, including two new case studies.  One from JAMA showed that adherence to universal masking policies reduced the novel coronavirus transmission within a Boston hospital system. Another, from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, showed that wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection from two hair stylists with COVID-19 to their customers in Missouri.

More than half of states have mandated wearing masks or face coverings in public, and the number is growing fast. The governors of states including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado and Montana all announced statewide mandates last week. Ohio’s governor announced a statewide mandate July 22.

However, some officials have not mandated masks and are even pushing back against local governments that enact their own orders, as is the case in Georgia.

After months of resisting masks, President Trump, on July 20, tweeted a photo of himself in a mask, saying, “many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can't socially distance.” The following day, at his first coronavirus briefing since April, he warned the pandemic is likely to worsen before improving and recommended face coverings. "Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact," he said.

Love’s Travel Stops just announced it will require customers to wear face coverings starting July 29. It joins a number of major retail chains requiring masks, including Walmart, Kroger, and Target. The National Retail Federation in mid-July issued a statement “encouraging all retailers to adopt a nationwide policy that requires customers to wear face coverings or masks to protect the health and well-being of customers, associates and partners during the coronavirus pandemic.”

This was two weeks after the NRF joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other business groups in a joint letter urged the White House and state governors to work together to create a national mask standard that would be implemented locally based on data in that area.

Trucking and COVID-19

Trucking was out in front of this early on. As far back as February, some fleets were looking for hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes – and masks for drivers and other employees. Many found they weren’t able to get surgical masks, so in March and April, drivers were using bandanas (better than nothing), no-sew masks made from T-shirts, home-sewn masks from family or friends, and so on. In HDT’s May COVID-19 Pulse survey, when asked what steps fleets had taken to protect employee health, the most common tactic was providing masks, at 73%.

Trucking Can Set Example in Pandemic Protection

Image: CDC

“We have seen a pretty low frequency of positive tests in the trucking industry,” said Kim Beck, vice president with insurance broker Cottingham & Butler, during the Truckload Carriers Association’s Virtual Safety and Security Meeting in late June. “I think, for the most part, y’all are doing a really fantastic job getting in front of this and have from day one been very cautious about the risks you’re exposing your drivers and employees to, and because of that, it’s been less of an issue we thought at first.”

In surveying large fleets, Beck said most are seeing about two positive COVID-19 test results for every 1,000 employees, well below the general public average. One large carrier, for example, had just five drivers test positive among its nearly 12,000 employees and associates, but even that is inflated because some of them were team drivers.

Why? I believe it’s because for trucking, thinking about safety is a way of life. When your business involves piloting 80,000-pound vehicles down the highway, you have a responsibility to safeguard your drivers and the motoring public. We’re used to doing things that may not be easy, that may be an inconvenience, that we may not even agree with, in the name of protecting the public health at large.

But as the rising numbers over the summer show, this is not the time to let down our guard. Keep up the good work, trucking, and be a shining example that “wearing is caring.”

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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