Free mask distribution to truckers prompted by OOIDA

June 2020

Mark Schremmer

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As of press time, FMCSA and other federal agencies were executing a plan to distribute about 1 million masks to truck drivers for free. Meanwhile, the agency also was working on forming a plan to administer COVID-19 testing and to distribute gloves and sanitation products to truckers.

OOIDA was heavily involved in making these things happen, as the ball started rolling after the Association sent a letter to President Donald Trump on April 3.

By the end of April, FMCSA acting Administrator Jim Mullen said at its Medical Review Board meeting that the agency was distributing 1 million masks and had plans to do more.

In response to a question from the Medical Review Board’s Dr. Brian Morris, Mullen said the agency was working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security on a plan to test truck drivers at high-volume rest areas across the nation.

“We are looking at high-volume rest areas to see how we can accomplish that,” Mullen said. “(We realize) they are nomadic and could be carriers. We hope to roll that out in the near future.”

In addition, Mullen said the agencies are working toward getting gloves and sanitation products to truck drivers.

FMCSA had already been working with FEMA and DHS to distribute free masks to truckers across the country. On April 28, Mullen said the distribution process had begun and the agency was increasing the number of masks it was distributing from 800,000 to

1 million.

The progress toward getting truckers tests and personal protective equipment followed OOIDA’s efforts throughout March and April.

Ongoing efforts

On April 3, OOIDA sent a letter to President Trump asking for “urgent and immediate action” to protect truck drivers as they haul essential freight during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every day they are exposed to COVID-19, because of the critical service they provide for all of us,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote. “They run in and out of the hot zones and, without question, they are exposed. They don’t have access to personal protective equipment or any practical means to know when they may be falling ill or any practical solution if they need treatment or self-isolation.”

In response, it was announced on April 22 that FMCSA, FEMA, and DHS were establishing a distribution network to get masks to truck drivers.

“This has been a long time coming, but it’s finally going to happen,” Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of safety and security, said on April 22. “The distribution of this (personal protective equipment) is a direct response to OOIDA’s letter to the president asking for PPE for truck drivers.”

Other efforts

In addition to working with the government to get truck drivers personal protective equipment, OOIDA also called for some commonsense solutions to helping truckers protect themselves from getting sick.

Simply, OOIDA said truck drivers should be allowed to purchase some of the masks, gloves and sanitation products that they were hauling across the country to keep others safe.

OOIDA sent the letter on April 14, to the grocery industry as well as to such businesses as Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens, to address the difficulties truck drivers are facing.

“While we realize virtually every industry is struggling to deal with COVID-19, we are seeking your help to make things a little easier and safer for our nation’s truck drivers,” OOIDA wrote in a letter signed by Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh.

OOIDA asked for the businesses’ assistance in making sure truck drivers can access supplies that will keep them safe.

“We are currently receiving several hundred calls daily from drivers who are unable to buy essential supplies to protect themselves from COVID-19,” Pugh wrote. “Basic items like paper towels, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are nearly impossible to find right now. The irony is that truckers are hauling these supplies, but they are unable to actually buy them.” LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.