Long-haul trucker Roger Mackbach said Wednesday he was going to eat a steak at his Augusta home and then drive to New York, with the expectation he could be gone for two weeks.

Like many people watching the spread of the coronavirus, Roger Mackbach worries he could be exposed to the disease and bring it home to his family, which includes his 3-year-old son and 71-year-old mother.

But the Augusta truck driver has a job to do, hauling goods people need — virus or no virus.

So he is not only not staying home. He is driving more than normal.

“I’m working more since coronavirus,” said the 47-year-old owner-operator of Compass Industries. “I’ve been going out straight because I’m working to try to help the community through this pandemic. Without trucks moving the freight, no one would have toilet paper, water, any essential products.”

Long-haul trucker Roger Mackbach holds his son, Thomas, 3, before leaving his Augusta home Wednesday to drive to New York.

He worries he could bring the spreading virus home to Augusta to either of his two sons, his mother or his fiancee.

His fiancee is legally blind so Mackbach is the only one at his Sand Hill household who can drive, and he worries how his family would get groceries if he were to become ill.

So when Mackbach is on the road, he is careful about sanitizing his rig’s steering wheel and his cellphone. He also checks his body temperature a few times a day with a thermometer he bought after the arrival of COVID-19.

Mackbach also washes his hand — he lost his right arm in a boating accident in 2006 — as often as he can, and when buying something at a local store, he warns employees they should make sure they clean places he has touched because he is a truck driver and he may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Mackbach said he does not normally need to drive as much as he is now, in part because he collects Social Security due to his disability.

But he decided to drive more — including to food warehouses he prefers to avoid because hauling to and from them can be more difficult — to do his part to help keep much-needed goods moving to stores.

Jeff Payson, who with his wife owns Northeast Transport in Waldoboro, has been in the trucking business for 33 years. He said none of his 40 drivers has left due to the coronavirus, although one part-time driver in his 70s said he did not feel safe going out, so he is not currently driving.

Payson said if there is any item a consumer buys, it likely came by truck.

“We’re out there every day bringing what people need in their lives, and today what they need is so much more important,” the soft-spoken trucking company owner said.

“Of course, no one is glad to be driving away from their family for a week at a time. But they’re willing to do the job to provide for their families, and, now, to bring people what they need. We haul a lot of food, it’s one of the primary things we haul.”

Payson said when drivers return from trips, they take photographs of their paperwork and send it to the office digitally to limit contact.

Other precautions have been put into place to protect drivers and the shippers and receivers with whom drivers normally interact on the road.

Among the changes: Drivers now call when they arrive, open the trailer doors and put their paperwork in the trailer. Drivers also back in and wait in their trucks while workers from the warehouse move the freight in or out. The drivers then head off without having entered a building or having direct contact with anyone.

A downside to all of that: Drivers are increasingly not allowed to use restrooms at warehouses or other businesses. And finding a bathroom has gotten more difficult on the road. Mackbach described at least one Maine coffee shop whose employees told him the bathroom was for employees only due to the coronavirus.

Payson said Northeast has had one driver fall ill, including getting a temperature. He said the driver was brought home immediately and, despite having a fever and cough, was unable to be tested for COVID-19. Instead, the driver was told by his doctor to shelter in place for 14 days, which Payson said was frustrating.

Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the  Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the organization has seen no indication that many of the nation’s 3 million truck drivers have stopped working due to concerns about the coronavirus. But, she said, many members are concerned about continuing to make deliveries and bringing the illness home to their families.

She said drivers have been willing to risk exposure to the virus to keep doing their jobs because they are accustomed to difficult working conditions.

“It’s what they do,” she said.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, the association noted many of the 160,000 truckers it represents “are working tirelessly to keep essential freight moving during the ongoing national emergency,” and “helping keep hospitals prepared, manufacturers productive and grocery stores stocked.”

The letter said their efforts are slowed by a lack of adequate parking and asked the federal government to discourage states from closing rest areas and weigh stations.

The letter also asked that motor carriers with satisfactory safety ratings be allowed to bypass weigh stations when hauling emergency supplies, and that help be given to ensure truckers have access to restrooms as they cross the country.

Additionally, the letter asked that the Trump administration help ensure truck drivers have access to coronavirus testing while on the road.

James Cooper, general manager of family-owned Bisson Transportation in Westbrook, which has 35 drivers hauling freight and another 30 in household moving, agreed parking is an ongoing problem for truckers, and the problem is exacerbated by many rest areas being closed due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Cooper noted that with most people sheltering at home, drivers have reported that some normally congested areas are nearly free of traffic, speeding their deliveries.

Mackbach said food options for truck drivers, especially those who might might want a hot, sit-down meal at the end of a long day, are largely limited to takeout meals eaten in their rigs.

Cooper said no driver has left Bisson due to concerns about the coronavirus. In fact, he said some drivers have been willing to stay out on the road longer, knowing they are helping restock stores depleted by panic buying.

Cooper said some drivers are concerned about what could happen to the economy, with so many people being out of work due to COVID-19.

In the meantime, drivers are working their hardest and trying to remain optimistic.

At the entrance to Northeast Transport’s Waldoboro headquarters, for example, Payson has put up a sign that says it all.

On one side, the sign reads: “Stay calm. Trucks bringing what you need.”

On the other side, it reads, “Welcome home highway heroes.”


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