U.S. trucking and delivery firms shift services as coronavirus spreads

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. delivery companies are halting “white glove” in-home delivery and set-up of TVs, sofas and exercise equipment in a handful of cities to limit contact with customers in an effort to help contain the spread of coronavirus and protect drivers.

Chicago-based SEKO has halted “over the threshold” service in Seattle, Spokane, Portland and San Francisco, Brian Bourke, SEKO’s chief growth officer, told Reuters.

The company is now calling every in-home delivery customer and giving them the option to delay, reschedule, or have items left on porches or in garages. Drivers also can decline to enter a home if they feel it is unsafe, Bourke said.

“The delivery experience is going to be different for the foreseeable future,” said Bourke, who is watching outbreak trends closely.

Transportation companies are moving to protect truck and delivery drivers, who are vital to keeping food, medical supplies and e-commerce moving as people in the United States begin sheltering at home in an effort to slow an expected wave of cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the sometimes deadly new coronavirus.

“They are on the front lines,” Bourke said of transportation workers.

Rival XPO also stopped in-home deliveries in quarantine areas in the United States, company spokeswoman Erin Kurtz said.

Transportation and delivery companies are scrambling to respond to demand shifts wrought by the fast-spreading virus, which has killed more than 7,000 globally, including at least 74 people in the United States.

SEKO has begun identifying space in warehouses that could be used to stage medical devices, hospital beds, masks and other supplies for quick deployment to outbreak hotspots.

“Hospitals don’t have warehouses attached to them,” Bourke said.

California-based Pyramid Logistics, which provides transportation and services for events, on Monday put out a call to companies whose suppliers are suddenly overbooked.

“As we have seen trade shows pause temporarily, we are restructuring our trucking and transportation services to assist corporations in need,” Pyramid principal Rob Dissman said in a statement.

United Parcel Service Inc UPS.N, the world's biggest package delivery firm, is working with federal, state and local governments to keep its trucks - and planes - running throughout the outbreak.

“We ... have been granted permission to continue operating, even in cities or communities where there are border closures or enforced restrictions on commercial activities,” UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara said.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot