As the U.S. approached another peak of the pandemic last fall, a truck driver at a top supplier for major national restaurant chains, including Panera Bread, Wendy's and Arby's, began to show symptoms of the coronavirus.

The truck driver informed the Sygma Network, one of the largest fast-food distributors in the country, that he needed to take time off to quarantine and get tested for Covid-19. But he was called back to work almost immediately as the company sought to staff routes for its thousands of restaurant customers.

"I was showing symptoms, and they were calling my phone up every single day," said the Michigan-based truck driver who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They wanted me to come back right away when my test results hadn't even come in, just because they were so short-handed."

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