Sims: London trucker threads narrow lane through U.S. COVID gauntlet

Last week, London truck driver Al Goodhall had to scale his big-rig in Minnesota to make sure the weight was legal before heading home to Canada.

Minnesota, like the rest of the United States, has been neck-deep in COVID-19. On Wednesday, the state reported 5,102 new cases, bringing its tally to 242,043 cases since the pandemic began.

“That’s a state where their governor is pleading with them to mask up. Transmission is going through the roof,” Goodhall said.

What Goodhall saw are “people just going about their business.

“I bet you more than half of those people weren’t wearing a mask. Some of them have it just down around their neck.”

Goodhall’s experience hints at why long-haul truckers are disproportionately represented in the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s COVID-19 caseload.

While they’re not the driver of the case counts, “they’re clearly over-represented,” said medical officer of health Chris Mackie.

“The major risk there, of course, is travel to the U.S.  If you’re in that industry, driving U.S-Canada is often a big part of your job,” he said.

“We know there are places in the U.S. where the pandemic is raging out of control and unfortunately that puts the folks who have to travel for work at risk.”

When a truck driver, or anyone in the service industry, brings the virus home, it often leads to secondary spread to family members.

That has been Goodhall’s biggest worry since March.

The Free Press asked him in the spring how he can keep on trucking and protect his family. It takes discipline. So far, so good.

Goodhall, who chronicles his thoughts and travels on social media, is on the road five days a week. His run takes him to Winnipeg and back through the States where he picks up freight before driving back over the border.

From his view behind the wheel, public health protocols “are being followed much better in Canada than the U.S.”

He’s lucky because he works for a great family-owned and progressive company that would be open to any changes to his work if he asked. He’s not an owner-operator who might be compelled to work to keep up with the bills even when experiencing symptoms.

When he’s working, he stays in his truck. Before he heads out, he will spend a couple hours making sure it’s cleaner than clean. He stores all his food in the truck’s fridge. He snoozes in the sleeper. He keeps a big supply of masks and hand sanitizer on hand.

“I just keep my mask on. I stay away from people. I just use my hand cleaner. I make coffee in my truck,” he said.

But, he said, there are lonely moments on the road, when he would love to walk into a truck stop, order a coffee and have a chin-wag with a fellow road warrior.

“I’m so isolated as a long-haul driver that I’m probably safer than you are in the community every day,” he said.

Often, he will go to a shipper’s door to take down a phone number to make arrangements before backing up the truck to the dock, getting his freight and taking off without seeing anyone.

He has concerns about the health of others in his industry. Goodhall said he has never been asked to take a COVID-19 test. He picks up loads at the mega distribution centres, where people work close together moving heavy freight.

And he worries about making a mistake.

“We’re all human. We’re all fallible when you get fatigued and you get tired or you’re on that last leg of your journey and you just want to get home.”

Despite great news on the vaccine front, we’re still a long way from getting back to life as we once knew it, especially during the second wave of infection. Watching what’s happening across the border only makes the transportation and distribution industry we rely on that much riskier.

And Goodhall knows it.

“If these numbers keep spiking, my wife and I keep talking about when do I pick up the phone and say I’m not going into the U.S. anymore.”