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Two Halifax Transit operators have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the president of their union.
Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, confirmed the positive cases to the Examiner on Monday. He said one of the drivers was at work two days before receiving a positive test result last week. The other driver was off work when they tested positive. Public health has yet to notify operators of any exposure related to the cases.
There are currently 30 potential COVID-19 exposures related to Halifax Transit routes on public health’s list. Wilson said those are all related to passengers.
Wilson said he’s “extremely concerned” about his members’ safety in this third wave. He said he’s asked Halifax Transit director Dave Reage to reinstate the safety measures in place a year ago — reduced passenger limits, free fares, backdoor boarding — and to enforce the mask requirement.
“All things we did in the first wave, all denied, nope,” Wilson said. “So we’re still collecting fares, we’re still loading buses up. Office workers can’t work with any more than five people in one room, but we can put 30 people on a bus, no questions asked, without masks and we can’t enforce it.”
Wilson said he’s also asked for on-site testing at the transit depots and for vaccine priority, and those requests were also denied.
On Monday morning, Halifax Transit tweeted a list of nine “service disruptions,” with buses not running for some trips.
That happened because so many drivers are afraid to go to work, Wilson said. He wasn’t sure what percentage of operators are opting to stay home, but he said there were 10 to 15 in isolation over the weekend from being at exposure locations.
“Members are losing confidence in transit to be able to support them as an employer,” Wilson said.
Wilson also alleged that operators are being told to go to work, even after they’ve been at an exposure location where they’re told to self isolate.
“When they call their dispatcher or supervisor and say they have to self isolate, they’re being told initially by the dispatcher, ‘No you don’t, because you’re low level infection because you’re a transit operator,’” Wilson said. “And I don’t know what makes anyone think that we’re superhuman. A bus is essentially a tube, if someone had COVID-19 on that bus and everyone on that bus should go get tested before coming back to work.”
The Examiner has asked the municipality for comment. We’ll update this post when we receive it.
Update, April 26, 2021:
In response to the Examiner’s questions, municipal spokesperson Erin DiCarlo said in an email that Halifax won’t be “releasing specifics about any employee who may test positive for COVID-19.”
“The municipality will advise staff of any positive test results within their respective business unit/facility/division and will follow all public health cleaning recommendations to help reduce the spread of the virus.”
DiCarlo said Halifax Transit isn’t planning to implement any new safety measures for buses right now.
“Backdoor boarding and the pause in fare collection were measures put in place as extra protection for Transit Operators prior to the installation of the polycarbonate shields. The polycarbonate shields, as well as the mandatory use of masks, provide appropriate mitigation of risk associated with the spread of COVID-19,” DiCarlo said.
“Capacity has not been reduced however, as with everything related to COVID-19, we continue to monitor and respond as the situation changes.”
As for the allegation that operators were being told to go to work when they should be self-isolating, DiCarlo said, “Halifax Transit has and will continue to support and reinforce public health protocols, including self-isolation directives for operators.”
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