As the realities of the COVID-19 virus outbreak hit home in the United States, and federal, state and local governments scramble to contain its spread by limiting large gatherings and encouraging “social distancing," that has implications for truck drivers' life on the road.
One measure being taken by a number of local governments is shutting down bars, pubs and restaurants – an understandable, yet highly problematic solution for truckers far from home. According to CNBC, at least 19 states have either shut down dine-in restaurants or placed restrictions on the number of patrons allowed in an establishment at one time.
A number of national chain restaurants, including McDonald’s, Arby’s, Sonic, Wendy’s, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Doughnuts are closing their in-store dining facilities and relying on delivery orders or drive-through windows to get food orders to customers – drive-throughs generally designed for automotive traffic, not semi trucks.
In addition, one state, Pennsylvania, has closed all rest areas. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said it reached out to state officials and is asking the federal Department of Transportation to issue directives to states, law enforcement agencies and the logistics community to not close rest areas or impose other policies that could jeopardize the safety of truck drivers during this national emergency.
"“For professional drivers, rest areas aren’t simply places to pick up SunChips and a Mountain Dew from a vending machine,” wrote Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs. “They are invaluable locations to rest when fatigued."
The truckstop and travel plaza association NATSO shared a letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation with state and local governments around the country, as well as key members of the trucking industry, stating that travel plazas and truckstops represent “essential businesses” that are vital to the nation’s emergency relief efforts as the United States grapples with COVID-19.
"All of your members must heed the CDC guidelines and follow state and local resstrictions," wrote Jim Mullen, acting FMCSA administrator. "In the coming weeks and months, it will be critical that these business remain open, 24 hours per day, providing America's truck drivers with fuel, food, showers, repair services, and opportunities to rest."
NATSO said that although many businesses will have to alter their services in the coming weeks, this letter reaffirms that truckstops and travel centers will remain open for business, providing fuel, food, and other amenities to the nation’s truck drivers.
Love’s Focuses on Cleanliness, Self-Service
In a statement to HDT, Love’s Truck Stops said it has been "committed to providing safe, clean and well-maintained stops that help get our drivers back on the road quickly, and we’ll continue to make that our priority.
“In response to COVID-19,” a spokesperson said, “Love’s has developed a task force that’s focused on monitoring the situation and providing education, guidance and resources to our store employees. The health and safety of our customers and team members is vitally important to us and because of this, we’ve put protocols in place so that we can maintain regular business when possible and keep our customers safe.”
Love’s has increased cleaning and disinfecting efforts at its locations, increased focus on hand washing for customers and employees, and provided additional hand sanitizing stations. “Additionally,” the spokesperson noted, “we’ve removed self-serve condiment stations and are offering pre-packaged condiments. We are also asking customers to use a new, disposable Love’s cup to get a drink or refill. Customers can fill their personal cup/mug with a new, disposable Love’s cup and My Love Rewards members can still use a refill credit with a new disposable cup.”
Love’s has not had any store closures related to COVID-19, the spokesperson said, but added that, based on developing state and local laws, and out of an abundance of caution, restaurants are carry-out or drive-through only. Showers are still open to customers. "We are continuing to monitor the situation and follow the guidance of federal, state, and local health officials, and will make changes as needed for the health and safety of our customers and employees.”
Love’s has set up a website where drivers can check for updates on the status of Love’s Truckstops nationwide and the Coronavirus crisis at www.loves.com/covid19.
Pilot Flying J puts COVID-19 Task Force into Action
“Taking care of our guests and team members is Pilot Company’s most important priority and has been our focus for more than 60 years,” a Pilot/Flying J spokesperson told HDT. “We are taking the COVID-19 situation seriously and are continuously reinforcing our best practices for cleaning and sanitation to minimize potential risks.”
Pilot/Flying J developed a response task force in February to monitor the situation with COVID-19/coronavirus, which has been meeting daily and updating plans in response to the rapidly changing situation,” a company spokesperson said.
Since its inception, the task force has worked to make sure drivers know that:
- The company is currently not experiencing any fuel supply issues at this time.
- Its showers are open, and are being cleaned after each use with degreaser, disinfectant and floor cleaner.
- All self-serve food stations are closed.
- In locations where dining seating is still allowed, the company is cleaning food contact surfaces using food-grade sanitizer.
- Gaming rooms are restricted to three participants at a time.
- It is continuing to frequently clean its restrooms and commonly used areas with disinfectant.
- A new fresh cup policy for all refills was put in place on Friday March 13. If guests would like to use their own mugs, they are asked to use a new cup to transfer their coffee or a fountain drink from the machine into their own mug and will only be charged the refill price.
- Unless desired, drivers do not need to bring their own towels for a shower. Pilot/Flying J is cleaning guest towels separately from service towels after each use.
- The company is currently evaluating keeping driver lounges open. Until a final decision is made, the company strongly encourages drivers use social distancing while in its lounges and will update drivers as circumstances change.
- All Pilot/Flying J team members are frequently washing their hands with soap and water. There is also have hand sanitizer available for both team member and guest usage.
- Team members showing any symptoms of illness are required to stay home.
“Now, more than ever, it is important that we support each other and work together to overcome challenging times,” Pilot/Flying J told HDT.
TA/Petro Closes Driver Lounges, Fitness Centers
In a March 13 news release, TA/Petro said it is relying on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization and offered the following updates on its services and amenities:
- All fuel lanes are open.
- Showers are open and you can still reserve showers through the app. Employees "continue to use the highest-quality chemicals when cleaning each shower."
- The company is following individual state mandates regarding closures of full-service restaurant dining. Some states are implementing 50% occupancy caps, while others are mandating full dining room closures. It offers updates by state on its website. The buffets and soup and salad bars in its Iron Skillets and Country Prides are closed, as are some of the dining rooms. Carry-out at all restaurants is still available, and drivers may order online from Iron Skillet ahead of time.
- Quick-service restaurants are open, but drivers may not be permitted to eat in the dining areas based on the applicable government mandate.
- The company is increasing its cleaning frequency and "continue to use best-in-class, food-safe cleaners to disinfect and sanitize common touch points within the restaurants and travel centers," including showers, restrooms, registers, door knobs, tables, menus, chairs, booths, counters, and all dishes, utensils and cooking surfaces.
- Fitness centers and driver lounges are closed until further notice.
- For customers that usually use a TA/Petro refillable mug, TA asks they use a disposable cup; they will still qualify for the refill price - just tell the cashier that you participate in the refillable mug program.
- Employees have been advised to take care of themselves and be aware of best practices for preventive safety measures. This includes frequent hand washing and staying home when feeling ill.
Other Truck Stops
The 83 Travel Plaza on Interstate 83 in York, Pennsylvania, has closed the dining room, following the governor's recommendation to keep people from congregating. Drivers can still get take-out service, and the pizza shop will remain open 24 hours. Showers remain open, sanitized after each use.
Truck business has been a little slow for the past week, manager Jason Herman told HDT on March 16. Even though it is located near a large grocery distribution hub, the trucks aren't coming in like they used to, and the locals seem to be staying away. The staff is all a little nervous, but they are taking precautions, he said.
HDT also reached out to the world-famous I-80 Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa, which said, “We are complying with whatever the state/federal government tells us to do and of course, cleaning like crazy. We will remain open and offer as much as we can to serve drivers, as we know they will be working diligently to get food and supplies where needed.”
The I-80 Truck Stop also has a COVID-19 news website set up for drivers, which can be accessed at: www.iowa80group.com/news/covid-19/
Jim Park and Deborah Lockridge contributed to this report.