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Two Halifax transit drivers test positive for COVID-19, union calls for vaccine priority

Click to play video: 'Two Halifax transit drivers test positive for COVID-19, Union calls for vaccine priority' Two Halifax transit drivers test positive for COVID-19, Union calls for vaccine priority
– Apr 27, 2021

Halifax Transit union president Ken Wilson says transit workers are scared to go to work as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic washes over the greater metro Halifax region.

“They are just absolutely stressed and distracted, the anxiety is through the roof,” said Wilson, head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508.

Read more: Halifax Transit union calls for better mask enforcement as more drivers refuse work

Wilson said in the past week alone, two transit operators have tested positive for COVID-19 and 31 others have had to go into self-isolation because of close contact.

The transit union is once again asking the Halifax Regional Municipality to implement new capacity limits on all buses to protect drivers and riders, in order to allow proper social distancing, like it did last April during the first wave of the pandemic.

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“We still have full loads and no social distancing on busses and it’s starting to be concerning,” said Wilson, who admits he’s frustrated with the lack of leadership from government and public health to re-implement health care measures on buses to protect the riders and employees.

“My members are calling me daily, hourly asking is this an ‘us-versus-them scenario?'” said Wilson. “Is this the elite versus the poor, is this the essential front-line workers who are going to have to bear the full brunt of this, while the office workers, the executives, the directors or transit, the councillors get to stay home?”

Global News reached out to Halifax Transit director Dave Reage, but he was unavailable for an interview. A city spokesperson said Halifax Transit relies on public health’s leadership for issuing and implementing any new health and safety protocols.

“At this time we have seen a reduction in capacity on many of our buses, largely due to the nature of many people returning to work from home,” said HRM public affairs advisor Maggie-Jane Spray. “We will continue to work with public health on any measures that need to change in the coming days.”

Read more: A year into pandemic, Canadians feel equally productive working from home: Statistics Canada

Global News spoke with several transit operators who would not appear on camera for fear of discipline at work or even losing their jobs but said several bus routes will see buses at full capacity with riders standing in the aisles, making it impossible for riders to social distance.

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The transit operators said they weren’t vaccinated yet and were concerned with the spread of COVID-19 in the community and were worried they could catch the virus and bring it home to their families.

“Here we are in the third wave and we’re still operating full service and there’s no spacing between seats on the bus, it’s a free-for-all,” said a transit driver. “But you go into the terminal and there are all these seats blocked off for social distancing.”

“I have an 83-year-old mother living with us at home and a 15-month old granddaughter living with us as well,” said another transit driver. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep coming here and driving around with all the cases popping up.”

The transit union has called on the province’s top doctor to prioritize transit workers for the COVID-19 vaccine during the second wave of the virus, and with record case numbers being reported over the past three days, the union is renewing the call to have transit workers vaccinated, as with the emergence of community spread of the virus in the metro area.

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“Transit operators carry hundreds of people a day,” said Wilson. “If we vaccinate the transit workers it builds confidence in the system.”

With two workers testing positive and more than 30 having to self isolate, it’s putting a lot of pressure on employees, Wilson said, and it’s impacting some routes as well.

Read more: N.S. closes schools after province confirms another record-setting COVID-19 case number

HRM says several routes may be affected over the coming days with current staff levels being impacted by COVID-19 isolation protocols.

“We’re continuing to work to ensure we can keep services running, even with reduced staff capacity,” said Spray.

A number of safety measures continue to be implemented to help reduce the spread of disease, she said, like the installation of plexiglass barriers for drivers and an increased frequency of wipe-downs of high-touch surfaces.

Wilson says transit workers are looking for some leadership and a response from government and public health, as cases in the central region continue to climb.

“Businesses can exceed public health protocols,” said Wilson. “Let’s go beyond the minimum requirements and take a step back and ask ourselves, are we doing it right for the third wave? Because it’s not the same as the first wave.”

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