‘It’s frightening’: Hemlock Valley trucker on being on the road during COVID-19

Armed with a keychain-sized hand sanitizer, trucker Brennan Bateman set out for the United States

Long haul trucker Brennan Bateman is out on the road amid a pandemic and difficulties finding essential supplies. Submitted photo

Bailey Bourre has no idea when her partner will be back to their home in Hemlock Valley.

Working as a trucker during the COVID-19 pandemic, her partner Brennan Bateman, 26, had just enough time to come home for a sleep two weeks ago before he was back out on the roads again.

Even before the pandemic, long haul drivers were working maximum hours in difficult conditions.”You’re away from home for weeks on end,” Bourre explained. She lived the trucking life for six weeks with Brennan when the two moved across the country. “You’re limited to being in your truck. It’s very small. Showers are not always available for you, food is not always available.”

The pandemic has made the trucking life even more difficult for long haul drivers. When Brennan attempted to stock up during the one day he was home, he went from store to store in Abbotsford and only came home with a pack of buns and peanut butter.

“Rather than him being able to come home and relax, he literally had to go on this wild goose chase around town, just to find some sort of food to stock his truck with,” Bourre said.

Missing from Brennan’s meagre supplies was, importantly, hand sanitizer. “He found one keychain size of hand sanitizer,” Bourre said. And with it, Brennan set out to drive through some of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreaks in the United States including Seattle and San Francisco.

What might seem like straightforward advice to keep COVID-19 at bay – wash your hands and maintain physical distance – is not so cut and dry as a truck driver. “It’s a bit of a struggle right now,” Bateman said. “You can’t find any cleaning products anywhere to just keep yourself clean.”

He is trying his best – showering once a day, cleaning up anytime he stops and using the sanitizer he has anytime he touches anything outside the truck.

But it’s frightening, Bateman said, to think about how a trucker who has COVID-19 might quickly spread the virus. Truckers stop to fuel up often and with so many trucks out on the road, and so few means to keep themselves clean, “it’s not safe right now, for anyone” he said.

For the virus to spread in the trucking community would have widespread effects. “Things are already dire,” Bourre said. “But they’re going to get a whole lot worse, if we start seeing these truck drivers getting sick that are not eating proper meals, that are not getting proper sleep, and that are not able to safely practice proper hygiene.”

An added pressure on truckers is the closure of trucks stops and gas stations. Some are also closing down, while others are closing their restrooms. The situation prompted a union representing truckers to demand these facilities completely re-open.

Teamsters Canada national president Francois Laporte said truckers are going days without a shower and being forced to drive an hour outside their routes to find washrooms.

“This is a matter of human decency,” he said. “Nobody can be expected to work an entire day without using a bathroom. It’s a disgraceful way to treat the truck drivers and delivery workers who are essential to the functioning of our country.”

Bateman said it’s “almost dangerous” for truckers to be out on the road in these conditions. “Especially with all these cities shutting down because of the virus, and really there’s no supplies for truck drivers to stay clean or even stay healthy.”

Read more: Rest stops barring washroom access to truckers a ‘huge problem’ as COVID-19 spreads

Hope’s dedicated truck stop, the Pilot Flying J, is still fully open and this includes their washrooms. Some gas stations along Old Hope Princeton Way are also keeping their washrooms open. Others, including Esso and Husky, as well as McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Starbucks along Old Hope Princeton Way remain open but have closed their washrooms.

Some truckers have also had their trailers broken into, Bateman said, with people trying to raid the loads they are carrying. When things are normal this is exceedingly rare, but with the situation as it is Bateman said people are desperate to find items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other necessities.

“I get that people feel the need to stock up, and I’m kind of mixed on this,” he added. On the one hand it’s a good idea to stock up he said. Yet if everyone is going out to stock up a few times a week, the influx of people to stores will lead to higher risks of transmission, Bateman said, not to mention “the struggle of trying to keep up with demand too, it gets exhausting for truck drivers.”

Bourre was laid off from her job selling travel insurance, so the couple are thankful there is still work for Bateman. But the trucking life involves sacrifice on the part of truckers and their families, and he adds truckers working long hours really need a raise as the prices of loads have always been low.

Even with the long hours, Bateman and Bourre try their hardest to connect at least once a day via Facetime. This keeps them connected, but doesn’t stop the worrying.

“I worry about him on a regular day, being out there. But now just this is definitely heightened,” Bourre said. “I have fears like what if he does get sick, any sickness, just a cold, what happens when he gets to the border?…or heaven forbid he does fall really sick and they’re not going to let him back into Canada. Those things just go through your mind.”

Bateman said he is optimistic about the situation. He believes the more people are off work and staying home, understanding that this is a big sacrifice for some families, things will return to normal “pretty soon.”

Ashley Wadhwani contributed reporting.

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Brennan Bateman, left, and his partner Bailey Bourre both worry about how truckers are coping with sustenance and hygiene during the pandemic. Submitted photo

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