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How Has the Coronavirus Pandemic Affected Highway Rest Stops?

The coronavirus pandemic is keeping most of us close to home, but what if you need to be out on the highway? Truck drivers, delivery people and those needing to get to work or to loved ones may find themselves wondering if it’s safe to take a break outside of their cars at a rest stop or gas station.

The short answer: Probably, but it varies by the type of highway rest stop and the location. Most importantly, what each state and county is doing with its rest stops is subject to change as reaction to the virus rapidly evolves.

The federal government and states have deemed the trucking industry "essential," which means that highways largely remain open to travelers, albeit with considerable restrictions or recommendations put in place by federal, state and local authorities. The trucking industry has urged lawmakers to continue to allow rest stops to be open, especially as the federal government lifted restrictions regarding how many hours truckers can drive in a single day.

Private truck stops have to follow local ordinances, which have typically prohibited restaurants from in-dining room service. Most truck stops will offer to-go meals, however.

Basic, unmanned rest stops — often called picnic areas — are generally open. Some states have begun to slow trash services, which means that it would generally be best to dispose of any food or beverage containers elsewhere. Some picnic areas have vending machines that dispense soft drinks and packaged snacks. If you choose to use these, make sure to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wash your hands and sanitize any containers after you’ve made your purchase.

Rest stops with restrooms are closed in some states and open in others. Pennsylvania, which has the fourth-most interstate highway miles, briefly closed all of its rest stops before reopening about half of its locations in mid-March. Neighboring Ohio, the state with the fifth-most miles of paved highways, is keeping all of its rest stops open but says its highway department will double the number of times per day its facilities are cleaned and sanitized. Texas, which boasts more than 3,200 miles of interstate highways, says it will also clean and sanitize restrooms more often.

Welcome centers generally located near state lines are almost universally closed in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, though in most cases restrooms and vending machines remain open. If you need to view a welcome center’s map, you can probably do so as those are typically located outside of the facilities that are now locked up for the duration.

Traffic on the nation’s highways is down dramatically, so the odds of a line forming outside a restroom are slim. However, should you find yourself waiting, make sure to practice social distancing by keeping a 6-foot space between you and the people in front of or behind you.

Looking for more information relating to you, your vehicle and the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out more of Autotrader’s coronavirus content.

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