Not discouraged by the coronavirus pandemic which shut down most of the US economy, truck stops stay open, providing truckers with a place to eat, rest and refuel on the way to delivery critical the supply of a nation trying to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the US Department of Transportation said that truck stops are now considered an essential activity, which means they are considered to be too vital to close.

“In the weeks and months to come, it will be essential that these companies remain open 24 hours a day,” said Jim Mullen, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the government agency that regulates the industry. country trucking, wrote in a letter to National association of truck stop operators.

Keep the truck stops open is particularly important as an increasing number of truckers work longer hours. Earlier this week, the federal government relaxed restrictions on hours drivers carrying essential supplies, such as medical equipment, food, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, are allowed to work.

Although long-haul truck drivers spend a lot of time in solitary confinement, they are still vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“They are socially isolated 95% of the time, but that other 5% literally everyone touches exactly the same bathrooms and fuel pumps. It’s a huge concern,” said Steve Viscelli, sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania studying the trucking industry.

To keep drivers and employees healthy, many truck stops have implemented new policies.

At some stops, drivers can no longer fill their personal cups of coffee, for example, and must use new disposable cups instead of. Lounges where drivers usually meet to watch TV and talk are usually be closed, just like seated restaurants. Instead, takeout and meals that can be purchased quickly are offered. Cleaning treatment regimens are also carried out more frequently and in depth.

Pilot Flying J, which operates truck stops in 44 states and six Canadian provinces, said his team cleaned the showers after each use with a degreaser, disinfectant, and floor cleaner. It is also restricting game rooms to three participants at a time and has stopped providing self-service food.

Employees with symptoms of illness should stay at home. The company also has an emergency sick leave policy in place so workers don’t have to worry about getting paid when they recover.

“It makes sense that changes to truck rest and stop operations will need to be made,” said Stephen Burks., professor of economics at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who spent a decade driving semi-trailers before becoming an academic. “But keeping them available to truckers is just as important as any other function necessary to enable an effective national response to the epidemic.”

This helps that, as Americans avoid unnecessary trips, there are fewer drivers on the road and at truck stops.

Jon Pertchik, CEO of Travel Centers of America, which operates more than 260 locations in the United States and Canada, said there had been a drop in gasoline sales this week due to the decrease in car traffic. But diesel sales are on the rise, he said, probably due to increased demand truck drivers doing deliveries during the pandemic.

Pertchik said he wanted to remind his staff how important it is keep the country running.

“There is a patriotic obligation,” he said. “This company meets and meets the basic needs of truckers who, in turn, supply essential products to Americans.”

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