EVERETT — A Snohomish County bus driver reportedly died Thursday while being treated for COVID-19.
In a Facebook post, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576 identified the Community Transit employee as Scott Ryan, who lived in Everett and also was a union shop steward. He left behind a wife and three teenage children. He was 41.
“He will be deeply missed and our hearts ache for his family,” union President Kathleen Custer wrote. “Please keep them in your prayers.”
Community Transit spokesperson Nashika Stanbro confirmed Friday that someone with the agency recently died, but she did not say who died or the cause of death.
At least nine employees were presumed positive with the new coronavirus as of Thursday. Eleven more with pending tests had self-quarantined at home.
“We are very disheartened and saddened that several of our employees have become ill from COVID-19 and are working to provide them with the support and resources they need,” Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath said in a Wednesday statement.
Citing health privacy laws, Community Transit has not released more details about ill or potentially ill employees, including which routes or buses they worked on.
This month, the transit authority took extra precautions to safeguard against coronavirus. Buses are disinfected each night; employees must undergo health screenings upon reporting for work; most administrative employees are telecommuting; and social distancing guidelines have been incorporated at the agency’s facilities. The agency also has limited bus entry and exit to the rear doors, and keeps the front 10 feet cleared, except for disabled passengers.
Custer said many of those measures only came after persistent demands from the union to address “common sense concerns.” It got to the point, she said, that the union threatened to direct employees to disobey company policy by not collecting fare and only allowing passengers to board through the back door. That same day, at 5:17 p.m., The Daily Herald received a news release from Community Transit announcing the changes.
Even then, not enough has been done, Custer said. The union wants to see the main operations facility closed down for a deep cleaning and for every driver to be given supplies to protect themselves.
“People are bringing their own supplies from home,” Custer said. “They’re bringing their rubber kitchen gloves.”
Apparently, Community Transit has provided some sanitation kits to drivers, but the union argues they are not sufficient for a full day in the field. A picture posted on Facebook showed a pair of gloves and two packets of alcohol wipes in a plastic baggie.
The union says it is now planning to make its own kits, buying hand sanitizer from local distilleries. They’re also recruiting volunteers to sew face masks and gather items such as gloves and disinfectant.
So far, Community Transit hasn’t signaled it would shut down operations entirely, explaining on its website that public transportation is considered “essential infrastructure.” Unless it receives guidance otherwise, the agency notes, it will stay open as long as possible.
Early on, Ryan worried that drivers would be uniquely exposed to COVID-19. He wrote about the potential dangers in a private Facebook group for bus drivers on Feb. 28 — the first time in a month that new coronavirus cases had been reported in Washington.
“Our buses under ‘normal’ circumstances are germ tubes on wheels,” Ryan wrote. “Now we introduce a disease that zero people have been vaccinated for and has an incubation date of up to 14 days without showing symptoms … My personal thought? We are high risk ticking time bombs for being exposed to someone with it.”
The next day, the first coronavirus-related death was reported in the U.S. — at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland — and Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.
On Thursday, Community Transit announced a 25% reduction in service, pointing to reduced ridership and available workforce. Details about those schedule changes, taking effect Monday, can be found online.
The number of people boarding is down 66% from pre-pandemic times, according to Community Transit.
Since news of Ryan’s death has spread, Custer said, she’s heard anecdotally of drivers staying home.
“They just thought, this is the reality right here, they’re not going to risk themselves out there,” she said. “No amount of money is worth it.”