Truckers brave coronavirus outbreak to deliver goods: ‘If we stop, the world stops’

Lee Robertson, 56, of Kansas City, is hauling a load destined for small shops and convenience stores across the country. He's not alone.
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JOHNSON’S CORNER, Colorado — Sitting in the cab of his blue Volvo big rig, trucker Lee Robertson leafs through the sheaf of papers listing what’s stacked inside the refrigerated trailer hooked up behind him.

“Eggs. Cream cheese. Vegetables. Chicken,” he shouts over the rumble of engines from semi-trailers parked at this truck stop between Denver and Cheyenne. “Soy milk.”

Robertson, 56, of Kansas City, is hauling a load destined for small shops and convenience stores across the country. He’s not alone.

Across the United States, the nation’s 3.5 million professional truckers are working flat-out to keep stores and businesses stocked as consumers worry about riding out home quarantines prompted by the coronavirus outbreak and try to snap up enough toilet paper, rice, beans, tuna and other staples to get through this period of uncertainty.

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Many truckers said they aren’t overly concerned about getting sick, although their jobs — which require touching shipments that could be contaminated, interacting with others, and going out in public at a time when many lawmakers are urging people to stay home — could put them at increased risk of contracting the virus.

Restrictions on which businesses can remain open have also made their jobs more difficult, forcing some truck drivers to cook for themselves in their trucks as restaurants across the nation shutdown. In other cases, it has left them without a place to wash their hands or to park and sleep at night. Dozens of rest stops were closed, for example, in Pennsylvania, Texas, Nebraska and Michigan this week because of efforts to slow down the coronavirus closures.

Coronavirus risk for truckers appears minimal

A trim man with neatly trimmed hair and goatee reflecting the barber he was until 18 months ago, Robertson, along with many other truck drivers, now finds himself on the front lines of the nation’s efforts to survive an outbreak that has forced tens of thousands of restaurants to close and emptied grocery store shelves nationwide.

“They told me that I’m essential personnel so don’t even think about getting sick,” Robertson says with a laugh.

He’s proud to be helping out, he says, but he’s also pleased with the pay and job security. Truckers can earn upward of $90,000 a year, plus benefits, at a time when thousands of Americans have already lost their jobs because of coronavirus quarantine closures.

Truckers are tasked with moving a staggering amount of goods, ensuring Americans have their fill of grocery items, toiletries, online purchases and other goods: The industry hauls more than 10 billion tons of freight annually, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the total freight tonnage moved nationally. By contrast, rail transportation moves about 13% of the nation’s freight tonnage, according to the American Trucking Associations.

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