Back in the spring, when much of the country was shut down to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease, truckers were hailed as heroes for being out on the road delivering needed supplies, from toilet paper to ventilators. Most trucking companies also quickly embraced the CDC’s early-April advice to wear face coverings, even if it was simply a doubled-over bandana, home-sewn masks, or masks made by a supplier who was previously selling them branded clothing. Fleets worked with local distilleries and other suppliers to obtain needed hand sanitizer for their employees. They sent some people home to work, and figured out how to social distance in the shop and other areas where working from home was not an option.
Folks, we need to double down on those efforts. I know it’s been months and months, and we let our guard down a bit in the summer as the economy opened back up, while outdoor living and mask mandates in many states helped slow the growth of the pandemic.
But the number of COVID-19 cases are soaring, hospitals in many areas are close to being overwhelmed, and the U.S. recorded its highest daily death toll since May on Nov. 24. More than a quarter million people have died from COVID-19 this year.
Despite the CDC’s advice for people to only celebrate Thanksgiving with their own households, many people decided to take the risk and travel anyway, maybe to see relatives they haven’t seen all year. Within a couple of weeks, we’ll be seeing more cases, and hospitalizations, and eventually deaths, as a result of many of those gatherings.
All this is no doubt what prompted Derek Leathers, CEO of Werner Enterprises, to issue a video message to the employees of the giant trucking and logistics operation – the first he’s done in a while.
Leathers talked about the company’s new Environmental, Social and Governance initiatives announced earlier this month, but the bulk of the message dealt with COVID-19 – because, after all, being a good corporate citizen in the area of public health certainly falls under the purview of being “socially responsible.”
“You hear me say it all the time – nothing we do is worth getting hurt or hurting others,” Leathers said. Early in the pandemic, he explained, he was doing one of these a week to pass along the information Werner was getting directly from top infections disease experts. At some point, he said, he stopped, because the advice had stabilized:
- Social distance
- Wash your hands regularly and properly
- Use Zoom for meetings instead of face-to-face whenever possible
- Don’t congregate with other people in a small area
- Wear a face covering and do so properly – with the mask covering both your nose and mouth.
“I get it. We’re all sick and tired of the pandemic… but now is the time for Werner associates to do what they do best – lead by example and keep America moving.”
Leathers said Werner has been doing a good job of this, with COVID-19 rates well below national averages. “And that’s something I’m extremely proud of. Don’t let your guard down.”
I want to echo Leathers’ advice. The trucking industry needs to keep up the good work in preventing the spread of COVID-19. While we’ve rejoiced at the good news that a vaccine is on the horizon, it will be many months before the majority of the population is able to be inoculated. Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that the nation is entering “a very vulnerable period” as the holiday season prompts people to gather in ways that can hasten the virus’ spread. The virus already is causing some 1,500 deaths a day and it’s rising.
“You do the math on that,” Fauci said. “Two to three thousand deaths a day times a couple of months, and you’re approaching a really stunning number of deaths,” he said in a recent interview.
And he told ABC News on Nov. 25, “if we could just hang in there a bit longer and continue to do the simple mitigation things… we’re going to get through it.”
I wrote in July that trucking can set an example in pandemic protection. As I wrote then, and as Derek Leathers emphasized, for trucking, public safety is an integral part of what we do. Let's keep doing it when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19.