Calgary bus, train drivers concerned with COVID-19 exposure: union president

Calgary's transit operators are concerned and taking precautions to limit exposure to COVID-19. Global News

As the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases continues to grow in Alberta — particularly in Calgary — the city’s transit operators are concerned and taking precautions to limit exposure to the virus.

Mike Mahar, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 583, which represents Calgary Transit workers, said Monday that the COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing, but he’s pushing for more protections for bus and C-Train drivers.

“They are as front lines as it gets really … there are a lot of them that are quite concerned,” Mahar said.

“They’re in close quarters in what more often than not is crush capacity. People shoulder to shoulder and a workspace that’s not separated in anyways.”

READ MORE: 74 confirmed coronavirus cases in Alberta, cases detected in all health zones

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Mahar said roughly 30-40 workers have opted to self-isolate after returning from holidays or being in close contact with someone who recently returned from abroad. Some workers reported they were showing symptoms of the virus and are awaiting test results.

Buses and train cars are cleaned on a daily basis, but Mahar said more can be done to protect workers.

“We’ve already dealt with the workspaces and ensuring they have hand sanitizer and those types of things. But additional things are required and we want them to be able to access that,” he said.

“We’ve told [Calgary Transit] we want to be able to respond very quickly to an increase in community exposures. Whether it’s isolating the driver, whether it’s just boarding through the back door, any of those things that can minimize the exposure that the operator may have.”
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According to Craig Jenne, an associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, a public bus or train can be an easy place for the coronavirus to spread.

“As you can imagine, a bus or a train during rush hour does cram people into a small space. They’re sharing handrails and handholds so there is a risk of picking up the virus this way,” Jenne said.

“Probably the most common route [for transmission] will be somebody who coughs into their hand and touches, for example, a handrail. Then somebody else touches that handrail shortly thereafter and rubs their own face.”
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Jenne stressed the importance of social distancing while onboard a bus or train and said keeping your hands clean and away from your face is essential.

READ MORE: Your coronavirus questions, answered: Medical experts respond to your COVID-19 concerns

“We’ve not directly tested or directly measured it, but when we’re seeing the rate of viral spread in cities like Milan where public transit is heavily used, it is very likely that that has contributed to some of the viral spread,” Jenne added.

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“That being said, just taking the bus alone doesn’t ensure you’re going to get infected. If you maintain a little bit of distance, and most importantly wash your hands and don’t touch your face, you’re going to dramatically reduce the chances of catching anything.”

Monday morning, many Calgarians waited for their regular train to work. Some are taking precautions to limit their exposure to the virus.

“I try to wash my hands as often as I can,” Ahmed Bilal said.

“If I have to press the button, I’ll press it with my knuckle. I make sure I don’t touch any of the railings,” Lexie Spratt said.

“I try not to sit on the train. I keep my gloves on. Hand sanitizer as soon as I get into work,” Noah Motter said.

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Calgary Transit is currently operating at full capacity, according to Ward 6 councillor Jeff Davison.

The more buses and trains that are in operation, the less congested one single vehicle will be, giving riders more space to distance themselves.

When asked if any changes to transit policies are being considered, Davison said the situation is fluid and “all things are on the table.”

“We can only wipe them down so many times a day,” Davison said.

“If you are sick, stay off the bus. You should be staying home.”

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