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March 22, 2021 8:00 AM, EDT

A Year of Pandemic: Technology Key to States' Response

Four pandemic imagesDriver with mask by andresr/Getty Images (clockwise from top left); vaccine vial by Liam McBurney/Pool via AP; COVID-19 virus by Getty Images; UPS truck carrying vaccine at Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo by Morry Gash/Pool/Associated Press

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The supply chain has come through severe trials since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, by the World Health Organization. Trucking and related organizations describe the challenges and their progress.

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State transportation agencies’ response to COVID-19 was as varied as the transportation sector itself.

Victoria Sheehan, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said technology made an important difference in departments’ pandemic operations.

Administrative staff and engineers transitioned to telework — a practice Sheehan said continues across many agencies, including the New Hampshire Department of Transportation where she serves as commissioner.

Those who had to report for duty at construction sites started using tools such as contactless ticketing to deliver materials. Individuals had to travel to work locations in separate vehicles also.

An initial concern Sheehan harbored was the inability to hold public meetings during the pandemic, which she said was resolved with virtual tools allowing people to share input online.

On public transportation, protocol included distributing personal protective equipment and modifying buses and train cars to allow physical distancing.

“Not only are our workers essential, but we’re transporting other essential workers to and from their employment,” Sheehan told Transport Topics.

State transportation officials also had to support governors’ safety plans, taking on responsibilities such as setting up testing and vaccination sites and staffing call centers to help people book appointments.

Sheehan said state officials are used to responding to emergencies, and 2020’s crises ran the gamut of hurricanes, floods and social unrest on top of the pandemic.

“Our association and our state DOTs and all the partners we work with had to be very nimble in reacting to all of these emerging issues,” Sheehan said. 

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