COVID-19 positive trucking couple finds little help

April 17, 2020

Wendy Parker

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Two days after taking a test for COVID-19, OOIDA member Christopher Drew received confirmation he had the virus on April 15.

His wife and co-driver, Chante, was tested the same day he got his results. She’s still waiting for confirmation that the dry, painful cough, general aches, pains, malaise and fever she’s experienced for almost a week are caused by the same virus her husband is certain they picked up out on the road.

The Drew team is signed on with Barlow Truck Lines as leased owner-operators. They’ve been happy with their three-year experience at the company and stress that Barlow has made – and continues to make – every effort they can to assist them.

Unfortunately, assistance from the government in making sure drivers have masks, sanitizer and access to testing have fallen behind.

The last series of loads the Drews ran before calling it quits and heading to their house in Kansas City, Mo., to recuperate originated on April 1 in Nogales, Ariz., where there was an extraordinarily long wait for their reefer load of vegetable freight to arrive and be loaded at the border.

“It usually takes one or two days at the longest. This time it took four days to get loaded,” Chante said.

After finally getting loaded, the team headed for Long Island, N.Y. In the two days it took the team to get fairly close to their destination, Christopher began feeling ill. During another unusually long wait between loads, Christopher slept 12 hours straight, which also was unusual.

The couple found that lanes they used frequently between East Coast and their home weren’t running because states had begun shutting down.

Restaurants and other facilities using freight from these lanes dropped dramatically, leaving Chante and Christopher no option other than to deadhead from Buffalo, N.Y., to Canton, Ohio.

While searching for a load in Buffalo, the couple also attempted to find a test site for Christopher, because they were both pretty sure he was sick with either a sinus/upper respiratory infection or COVID-19, and they wanted to know for sure before making any decisions about freight.

Unfortunately, they were unable to find anywhere that could accommodate them within a 400-mile radius of Buffalo, so they took the load from Canton to Wichita Falls, Texas.

“We did the best we could to isolate,” Chante said, “but there’s only so much space in the truck. We couldn’t find hand sanitizer or masks until we got to Dallas, Texas, and by then I was sure if he had it, I did too.”

The deadhead back to Kansas City, Mo., was “no fun,” according to the couple. After finally returning home, they obtained a prescription for Christopher to be tested at a local drive in facility in Kansas City, Mo. On Monday, April 13, that test finally happened. Chante took her test on April 15.

The Drews are determined to get the word out that people need to be observing social distancing, mask wearing and any other precautionary measure they can take to keep drivers safe because of COVID-19.

Christopher takes it a step further.

“The minute they started shutting states down and canceling everything, the federal government should have been at every scale house out there handing out masks and hand sanitizer,” he said.

Chante added, “We may have carried it without knowing it, and by the time we knew to sanitize like crazy there was nothing left available to do it with. We couldn’t find cleaning supplies anywhere.”

The Drews are resting, uncomfortably, at home. Christopher is coping with severe sinus symptoms, and Chante is dealing with more of a respiratory-type reaction. They were told by their company that their truck will likely be totaled because of hazmat concerns. Fortunately, this isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

“We were having issues with repairs anyway. We’ll sign on again with a new truck when we’re well,” Christopher said.

They both again re-iterated how good Barlow has been about making sure they’re able to recuperate without truck worries.

Other worries might be salved a bit with Missouri’s Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, though the process through which self-employed and contract workers receive compensation takes a little longer.

“We have to apply through the regular system,” Chante said, “and when we get a rejection from the state system we can then use the letter of rejection in our application for the federal unemployment.”

She said that even if the state unemployment system wasn’t crashing this process could take a couple of weeks.

Right now the couple is focusing on getting well.

“I’m going to tell anyone who doesn’t believe it’s real that it flat-out sucks, and it’s very real,” said Christopher, who has a 20-year background in the medical community before plantar fasciitis took him off the nursing floor and directed him to a truck.

Meanwhile, that’s two more off the road that are needed to deliver critical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. And little has improved for drivers in terms of getting personal protection equipment two weeks after OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote to President Donald Trump saying the need was urgent.

“Every day they are exposed to COVID-19 because of the critical service they provide for all of us,” the letter stated. “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.”

The Drews are proof that Spencer was right.

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.