On Friday the 13th of last month (a fitting date), the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 was reported in Alabama, where I live. I joined the throngs of panic-buyers at the grocery store (but I did not buy a cart full of toilet paper). The next day, I was with the Girl Scout troop I lead as we wrapped up our last cookie booth of the season — with plenty of hand sanitizer. That was my last venture out of the house, except to buy groceries or go for walks in carefully chosen places and times where we can easily practice social distancing.
I’m fortunate that I can shelter in place — unlike health-care workers, the people providing essential supplies like groceries and medical supplies, and of course truck drivers, delivery drivers, and warehouse employees. These essential workers are all out there putting in long hours doing their jobs, all the while at a higher risk of contracting the potentially deadly novel coronavirus.
Meanwhile, our HDT team has been working hard to try to help our readers make sense of and figure out how to deal with this unprecedented and stressful time. You’ll find full coverage online at www.truckinginfo.com/COVID-19.
Here are a few of my takeaways as of the end of March:
- Drivers are finally getting the appreciation they deserve. Maybe America finally truly understands the message, “If you got it, a truck brought it,” on a real and personal level. My Google news alert emails are filled with stories from newspapers and TV stations across the country about how truckers are on the road during this crisis, often facing a hard time getting a hot meal or a place to park. There also are stories about how the public and companies are showing their appreciation, organizing free meals, and more.
- The industry is rising to the challenge. Drivers, of course, aren’t the only ones going above and beyond. Many fleets have been running hard to meet the demand for essential goods such as medical supplies, groceries, and of course toilet paper. Others have pivoted, often in creative ways, to turn their talents to addressing COVID-19 needs. For instance, Upstaging, a fleet specializing in events, quickly lost all its business when concerts were cancelled. So they started moving essential goods and manufacturing face shields for medical workers. SEKO Logistics started identifying space in warehouses that could be used to stage medical devices, hospital beds, masks and other supplies for quick deployment to outbreak hotspots, reported Reuters. On the supplier side, Dana has been using the 3-D printers at its Advanced Manufacturing Center to make parts for face shields.
- Things are about to get worse. While fleets that are hauling high-demand goods such as groceries are busier than they’ve ever been, others are tightening their belts. So far, many fleets have been able to reassign capacity from hauling things like auto parts, furniture, or electronics to hauling groceries and medical supplies. But FTR predicts that as the economy slows, freight volumes will drop sharply, driving total goods movement down 24% from the first quarter to the second quarter.
- Technology is making things possible that wouldn’t have been a decade ago. Or at least making them easier. For employees that have moved to working at home, technology such as email, cloud computing, and videoconferencing have helped make that possible. Sophisticated load-matching algorithms and apps are helping fleets maximize their capacity if they’re busy and find different freight if they’ve seen a drop in business.
- Personal connections matter. I’ve worked at home since 1998, so I know it’s possible, and it has a lot of advantages. But I also know the isolation can be difficult. In normal times, I travel to events, trade shows, and press conferences, and I’ve found there’s nothing like the networking you get in-person. Social distancing, while necessary, is hard.
Many trucking industry events have been cancelled or postponed. That includes our own Heavy Duty Trucking Exchange, where we feature our HDT Truck Fleet Innovators awards and panel discussion, which has been rescheduled for November. I encourage you, once things improve, to make time in your schedule for one or more of these events. And I look forward, eventually, to seeing many of you in person. In the meantime, we’re collecting stories and photos about how you’re navigating the COVID-19 crisis. If you’d like to share what you’re doing, I’d love to hear from you.