MTA bus driver in Baltimore diagnosed with coronavirus; agency closes Eastern Division affecting routes -

MTA bus driver in Baltimore diagnosed with coronavirus; agency closes Eastern Division affecting routes -

The routes affected by the closure include:
CityLink Navy, Orange, Blue, Pink, Lime and Gold

LocalLink 21, 22, 28, 36, 56, 59, 62, 63, and 65
Express BusLink 105, 120, and 160

 

By Kevin Rector

Baltimore Sun |
Mar 25, 2020 | 6:19 AM

A Maryland Transit Administration bus driver who works out of Baltimore has tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to the president of the local union that represents drivers.


The Maryland Department of Transportation and the MTA, in a release, confirmed the driver’s diagnosis and announced the closure of the Eastern bus division.


“MDOT MTA is working with health officials for formal verification," according to the release. “The operator last reported to work six days ago on Thursday, March 19. Buses are disinfected daily. Out of an abundance of caution, MDOT MTA has closed the Eastern bus division so that it can undergo a thorough cleaning and disinfecting.”

Michael McMillan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300, said MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn called him about 10 p.m. Tuesday to inform him that a driver had tested positive for the new, highly contagious and at times deadly respiratory illness.

McMillan said the MTA, a state agency, was not doing enough to protect other staff and riders in light of the driver’s diagnosis Tuesday night, and hasn’t been doing enough to keep drivers safe for weeks.


McMillan said Quinn would not tell him the identity of the driver, but she worked out of the Eastern Division, on Eastern Avenue. Buses traverse the city from there and go into the surrounding county, he said. McMillan added the last time she worked was four days prior, which conflicts with information in the MDOT MTA release.


The routes affected by the closure include:
CityLink Navy, Orange, Blue, Pink, Lime and Gold
LocalLink 21, 22, 28, 36, 56, 59, 62, 63, and 65
Express BusLink 105, 120, and 160


On its website, the MTA it urges users of public transit to ride on buses and other transit options “for essential travel only.”

“Essential travel means taking trips to work, hospitals, health care providers, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, food distribution centers, schools, to provide care for family members, and other similar destinations,” the agency says. “By reducing unnecessary travel, transit becomes safer for those who depend on it, especially essential healthcare workers, and for those who operate it.”

The MTA also implemented a new policy on buses, urging passengers to board through the rear door “to minimize operator contact with riders.”

City Council President Brandon Scott said he had heard of the diagnosis of the driver Tuesday evening, and asked that the city “keep the operator and family in our thoughts.”


“We cannot forget the sacrifice our transit workers make to keep our city moving,” he said.


McMillan said Quinn had met with him a month ago to assure him that the MTA would do everything in its power to quarantine sick employees and isolate others they came into contact with in the event a coronavirus case was identified among staff. He also said facilities would get a deep clean.
However, McMillan said that was not happening Tuesday night. “They’re going back on their word,” he said.


Right after he got off the phone with Quinn, he said he drove to the Eastern Division, and things were carrying on as usual. He said one person was at the facility and “was taking Lysol wipes that you can buy from the Giant, and was wiping one surface at a time.”


The union has about 3,000 members. There are four bus divisions. At peak times, there can be as many as 40 bus operators inside a division at a time, McMillan said. The MTA should have had a crew there to “clean it from top to bottom,” and a team from the health department to “find out who this operator has been in contact with,” he said.


“I’m trying to stop a spread,” McMillan said. “They don’t know what to do or how to do it.”


Instead, McMillan said another top MTA administrator had called him, told him he shouldn’t be telling operators about the diagnosis of their colleague, and “threatened the operators and the mechanics” in the division — “that if they refuse to work at this time, in this contaminated division, that disciplinary action would be taken against them.”


McMillan said he has been asking the MTA for three weeks to supply drivers with masks and other protective gear, and asking them to introduce measures at the divisions and on buses to emphasize social distancing practices.
Still, drivers have no equipment, he said, and social distancing measures — including the one urging riders to board through the rear door — have failed.


While Gov. Larry Hogan has said no more than 10 people should be in a room at the same time anywhere in the state, buses are still routinely filling up with as many as four times that figure.


“Operators have been taking buses out with 20 to 40 people on a bus at any given time, and there is no way for the operator to police it themselves at all,” McMillan said. “Nobody is advocating for a total shutdown at all, but we want to do our part to flatten that curve.”


McMillan said state officials, including Hogan, have praised first responders like police and health care workers time and time again in discussing the threat of the new virus, but not transportation workers — who he said also deserve credit.


“They haven’t been complaining,” he said. “They are coming to work every single day, doing their jobs, putting their life on the line.”


Scott said the division where the driver was working must be closed “until fully cleaned," that the MTA work to identify everyone else the operator was in contact with “to ensure they get the medical attention and information needed,” and that all operators are provided with necessary protective gear.


“It is unacceptable that they don’t have what they need now,” he said.


Bus operators “take a huge risk every time they show up to work,” and the city must keep them safe, Scott said. People must stay home and off public transit if they don’t need to travel, heeding local leaders’ calls despite messages from President Donald Trump and others that such isolation efforts should come to an end soon.


“This is not a game. People need to ignore President Trump and follow the advice of public health professionals who are telling us, stay at home and practice social distancing,” Scott said.