When word got out that Paul’s Hauling had an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in early May, it became something of a big deal in Manitoba. Canadian media outlets covered it in at least 30 articles as reporters pressed officials on whether the carrier had become a vector for the novel coronavirus.
It hadn’t. In fact, the carrier’s proactive steps before detecting its first case and collaboration with Manitoba health officials helped contain the outbreak. Officials say just 10 cases have been linked to the outbreak at Paul’s Hauling’s terminal in Brandon.
“This business took it upon themselves … to group employees in smaller groups and contain them in those groups while they work,” Manitoba’s chief health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said during a news conference. “Through public health investigation, all of the cases were connected to that one cohort. No employees outside of that cohort have tested positive, so it’s a real note to the actions taken by this business.”
In other words, the outbreak could have been much worse. It didn’t spread to the carrier’s headquarters in Winnipeg or its terminals in Ontario and Saskatchewan. And no drivers were infected.
“That’s not a failure. It’s a success,” Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, told FreightWaves.
Paul’s Hauling did not respond to FreightWaves’ requests for comment. The small Winnipeg-based carrier specializes in transporting bulk commodities, including jet fuel.
“Their internal safety proposals are best-in-class,” Shaw said. “Not that safety isn’t critical for everybody. But it’s different to haul empty pop bottles than jet fuel.”
Local paper revealed terminal as site of COVID cluster
Local newspaper The Brandon Sun first identified the Paul’s Hauling terminal as the source of a cluster of cases after Manitoba officials revealed there was an outbreak at an unidentified business.
Citing internal emails, the Sun described how the first case emerged in the terminal maintenance shop in late April. Paul’s Hauling worked closely with health officials as additional tests were performed along with contact tracing, and thorough cleaning of the facility, according to the Sun.
All that happened outside of the public eye until the Sun reported it on May 6.
“All things considered, it’s perhaps understandable that the transport company was reluctant to announce the fact that it has fallen victim to the pandemic,” Sun Managing Editor Matt Goerzen wrote in a May 7 editorial. “Based upon the mob mentality that denoted the last two days of ‘guess Brandon’s COVID-tainted business’ on social media, I can’t really blame them.”
Goerzen defended the decision to name the company, citing the greater public interest. But he also highlighted the company’s efforts to ensure employees’ safety and work with health authorities. “Affected employees need our sympathy, and the company needs community support in the days and weeks ahead,” Goerzen wrote.
Goerzen did not respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment.
Shaw, of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said the overall success of Paul’s Hauling in managing its COVID-19 outbreak did not get enough attention.
“That should be the story,” Shaw said.
Despite the widespread concern about truck drivers spreading COVID-19, the reality remains that community spread remains the single biggest public issue, he added.
“I don’t think this is a trucking issue. COVID is a business issue, and as a business, you have a responsibility to keep your employees safe,” Shaw said.