By Isabella Akaliza
COVID-19 has disrupted the trucking industry as a whole. Truckers delivering essential goods during the COVID-19 pandemic are facing an increasing struggle to find open washrooms.
Although trucking was identified as an essential service and exempt from many restrictions, drivers continue to face difficult working conditions: limited washrooms, food stations, and additional quarantine measures on their return home.
Shelley Uvanile-Hesch, CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, is now pushing businesses to open their facilities and for carriers to stand up for their drivers.
In an interview with CBC News, Uvanile-Hesch called it “dehumanizing” that divers were being denied access to restrooms.
“Drivers are human beings, we’re not dogs,” Uvanile-Hesch said. “We don’t go outside. We deserve to be able to go into a washroom like everybody else.”
Finding food is also an issue, because many restaurants are closed and trucks aren’t able to fit in drive-throughs.
Caroline Carter, a truck driver, has been driving a transport truck for 34 years. Though truck drivers are encouraged to maintain healthy lifestyles, it has become incredibly difficult for her due to the fact that options are limited to fast food restaurants.
“How are you supposed to eat healthy on the road when you’re eating fast food?” Carter said.
Truckers face another more silent challenge, isolation.
The second wave of the pandemic has intensified feelings of stress and anxiety for some truckers, causing alarming levels of despair, suicidal thoughts and hopelessness.
In the Canadian population, our truck drivers are not immune.
Carter asks that the general public be more understanding; that despite the fact that they do go into high-risk areas, truck drivers self-isolate, as that is the nature of the job. Carter is one of many truckers who asks the general public not to treat them as social pariahs especially when they take every precaution to be safe when travelling outside of their communities.
Her request comes amidst reports of grocery stores that won’t allow drivers inside if they admit to being out of the country within the past 14 days, as well as reports of limited access to basic facilities like washrooms and showers.
“We’ve kind of learned to adapt as drivers but we shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t have to fight for the opportunity to say ‘hi,” and see a person or use a bathroom” she says.
For Allie Fanjoy, a truck driver on medical leave, when COVID-19 first hit she found it difficult. She recognizes that a lot of measures were taken in order to mitigate the spreading of COVID-19 in truck stops.
Also taken? Moments of casual contact.
Moments where she would socialise with other truck drivers as they waited for a shower, as they stood in line to order food, or when she would pay for her coffee in a drive-through window.
These were quick yet meaningful moments that became brief interactions she would soon miss.
Ten months into the pandemic, with interactions few-and-far between, Fanjoy couldn’t take the isolation anymore and attempted suicide.
“What people don’t understand when it comes to the mental health of people, you have to have that human contact,” Fanjoy said. “And in effect, what is going on is that COVID-19 has taken that away from a lot of us, especially truck drivers who tend to be isolated to begin with.”
A recent poll conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that 50% of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began with 44% feeling worried and 41% feeling anxious.
Jordan Friesen, the national director of workplace mental health at the Canadian Mental Health Association, told CTV News Channel that front-line workers are among the groups that the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is most concerned about right now.
“We see front-line workers experiencing higher levels of fear, worry, uncertainty… feelings of anxiety and anxiousness that of course are related to them being in an elevated risk for contracting COVID-19,” he said in an interview with CTV News.
According to CAMH, people are struggling with fear and uncertainty about their own health and their loved ones’ health, concerns about employment and finances, and the social isolation that comes from public health measures such as quarantining and physical distancing.
One-in-10 Canadians polled, said that their mental health had worsened ‘a lot’ as a result of COVID-19. Similar results were found in a survey of Canadian workers, where 81% reported that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health.
Fanjoy who has been very public about her story, says that she has had many drivers reach out to her and share feelings of loneliness and isolation. When they ask her for advice on what to do, she encourages them to seek out professional help.
Fanjoy joins Carter in asking that the public be more compassionate to travelling essential workers.
“They forget that we’re people and because we’re people we need [compassion].”