How often did your mother remind to wash your hands after using the washroom and before sitting down to a meal? If you’re like many people, those words now echo like a distant early warning siren. Still, hand washing isn’t yet a habit for many. That may soon change.
“I guess I have changed some of my habits; I’m standing farther away from people, washing my hands more often, and being careful what I touch and how I open doors,” says driver Gary Ebelhar, who was en route from Seattle to Los Angeles when we spoke Tuesday morning. “But I’m not doing it all the time. It hasn’t become a habit for me yet. It’s not the normal I or anyone else is used too.”
No, it’s not normal, or routine behavior, yet. Nor is refraining from touching your face or rubbing your eyes when tired. Yet refraining from such contact is a recommended way of reducing the possibility of infection from the novel coronavirus. Reducing is the operative word here. There’s no guarantee of prevention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person when they are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. CDC says these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
It may also be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or possibly eyes. CDC says picking up the virus from a surface is possible, but this transmission method is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Current evidence suggests that the virus may remain viable for hours or even days on different surfaces. Depending on the source of the information, the virus can survive on porous surfaces like paper or cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on harder, less porous surfaces such as plastic, glass, or steel for 48 to 72 hours. Those numbers are basically meaningless though, since there’s no way to be sure when, if ever, a surface has seen the virus. Your best assumption is that the virus is present, and therefore, you should wash your hands as soon as possible after touching something that you have no control over, such as a door knob, an ATM keypad, or an ELD screen in a slip-seat truck.
In fact, just about every surface inside the cab, even the door handles and glad-hands, could be a source of transmission. Even though CDC stresses that physical contact with surfaces is not considered the primary line of transmission, it won’t hurt to be cautions and wash up frequently.
How to Keep the Cab Clean
Before starting a driving shift, wipe down all the surfaces you’re likely to touch with an appropriate cleaning product or hot soapy water. It may take an extra 10 minutes but you’ll make that up with the lack of traffic clogging the highways. Surfaces include the steering wheel, gear shift or selector, all driver switches and controls as well as door handles (interior and exterior) and glass. And don’t forget to wipe down surfaces in the sleeper too. If you’re on a steady truck or your own truck, take the same precautions but you may not have to be quite so vigorous as you’re it’s only occupant.
Bedding and linens should be laundered regularly. CDC recommends using hot water and advises against shaking dirty laundry so as to avoid dispersing the virus through the air. Launder the laundry bag as well or dispose of any garbage bags used to store dirty laundry.
For electronics such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards, etc., remove any visible contamination following the manufacturer’s instructions. Consider use of wipeable covers for electronics. If no manufacturer guidance is available, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol to disinfect touch screens. To prevent damage, do not spray liquids directly on to the device and do not immerse them in cleaning solutions.
CDC says it is not known how long the air inside a room (in this case, the cab of a truck) occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious. While it would seem unlikely that the environment in the cab would be a potential source of infection, leaving windows open prior to driving or servicing the truck might be advisable. At the very least, technicians should wear protective gloves or thoroughly wipe down surfaces that they are likely to touch while performing service on the truck, especially door handles, steering wheels, gear shifts, etc. And of course, they need to thoroughly wash their hands after the job is completed.
“They should be paying attention to the high touch points in the shop, such as telephones, touch screens, keyboards, and the like,” says Joe Puff, vice president of truck technology and maintenance at NationaLease. “It’s the same with trucks; the grab handles, steering wheels, and places that drivers touch all the time need to be properly wiped down as precaution. It’s doesn’t take much, and that little bit of effort can save lot of grief.”
Recommended Cleaning Products
The Environmental Protection Agency has published a list of disinfectants that meets its criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. It’s a long list that includes dozens of commercial and industrial cleaning products as well as household products. These are disinfectants, as opposed to simple cleaning products. As disinfectants, there is some virus-killing capability, while common cleaning products may just transfer the virus from the surface to the rag or wipe. In either case, wipes and rags should be properly disposed of or laundered after use.
Many of the recommended products contain sodium hypochlorite, which is the main ingredient in laundry bleach. If the products listed on the EPA site are not readily available, a mixture of 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water makes an effective substitute. It may not smell as nice as some of the store-bought product, but it will do the job. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.
Consumer products usually come ready to use, but some commercial products may have to be diluted as per the manufacturer’s instructions and allow proper ventilation during and after application. CDC recommends ensuring a contact time of at least one minute.
While effective cleaning products are hard to find, hand sanitizer is even scarcer, unless you’re prepared to pay $17 a bottle to some eBay troll. CDC says alcohol-based products with concentrations of at least 60-70% are as effective than soap-and-water hand washing. But don’t be lulled into thinking you’re doing the right thing using a product with lesser concentrations. It’s not as effective, CDC notes. The concentration is important.
There are loads of recipes online for making your own alcohol-based sanitizer, but many experts advise against it. They say it turns out too diluted, in which case it would be of little value. It could also be too strong, which could lead to injuries.
Assume public surfaces could be contaminated. You should wipe down what surfaces you can, but that obviously impractical in many situations. Also, limit the time you spend in closed spaces in the company of others, and stay at least six feet apart at all times.
The bottom line is, take precautions and wash your hands thoroughly after touching any object of which you’re unsure, and do not touch your face, put your fingers or anything else near your mouth, nose or eyes. And if you have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a handkerchief or an arm or hand, and wash up afterward.
Stay safe and help flatten the curve.