A man wearing a face mask walks toward the rear door of a Community Transit bus at the Everett Station on Friday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A man wearing a face mask walks toward the rear door of a Community Transit bus at the Everett Station on Friday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Local transit won’t release routes of drivers with COVID-19

Four Snohomish County bus drivers have coronavirus, Community Transit announced Thursday.

EVERETT — Community Transit won’t release the routes of four drivers who tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, citing privacy concerns.

The drivers in question each called in sick between March 6 and March 14, Community Transit spokesperson Luke Distelhorst said, but the organization didn’t receive word from the Snohomish Health District on the COVID-19 diagnoses until Thursday.

It had been five to 13 days since each individual clocked in at work by the time Community Transit was notified, he said.

The health district has assigned a disease investigator and is looking at any potential close contact the drivers may have had, according to Community Transit. The health district defines close contact as spending 10 or more minutes within six feet of an individual.

If public health determines anyone meets those qualifications, Community Transit will help notify the individuals, Distelhorst said.

Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath sent a message March 2 to all employees, urging them to stay home from work if they are sick or caring for someone at home who is sick, Distelhorst said.

Employees were instructed to remain home for 72 hours after symptoms had disappeared, or seven days from the onset of their symptoms, whichever was longer. They’re required to use paid time off or sick leave benefits for that time out of work, Distelhorst said.

Rider reactions to the news of the positive tests are mixed.

Some, like Everett resident and frequent Community Transit bus passenger Raven Campbell, said it’s not concerning enough to stop taking the bus.

“I was a little shaken when I found out that CT bus drivers had tested positive,” she said. But that won’t stop the land use planner from using mass transit.

Nearly every weekday, Campbell takes a combination of buses from her home near Evergreen Middle School to her child’s sitter and then to her office, which is on the west end of downtown on Grand Avenue.

“Reducing my personal driving is something that I take very seriously,” Campbell said.

But she said she’s taking extra precautions, like sitting farther away from fellow riders.

Others think the buses should stop running entirely.

“Inslee needs to shut down the public transportation right now, temporarily,” Bonnie Harris commented on Community Transit’s Facebook announcement about the positive tests. “Those things are just Petri dishes on wheels going from County to County.”

For many, taking mass transit isn’t a choice.

“ … I still am required to go to work and don’t have a work at home job,” Christina Hutchison wrote on Facebook.

“Rode the bus today and will continue to ride the bus as my office is not shutting down,” Rob Morgan wrote.

Compared to last month, Community Transit ridership is down 57%, Distelhorst said.

On an average February Wednesday, buses had almost 40,000 riders. This past Wednesday, just over 16,500 passengers boarded the bus system.

Commuter boardings to Seattle and the University of Washington are down 80%.

Also seeing few riders, Sound Transit announced Thursday plans to reduce service on Sounder trains.

Starting with the Monday afternoon commute, Sounder North weekday service will be reduced from four round trips to two round trips, with cancellation of the 1701 and 1705 departures from Everett and the 1700 and 1704 departures from Seattle.

This week, total system ridership was down almost 70%, according to Sound Transit.

Bus route reductions were announced Friday evening by Sound Transit. Details can be found at soundtransit.org.

Community Transit added measures to protect their drivers this week. Now, riders can only enter and exit the bus using the rear doors, although 30-foot buses only have one door. As passengers enter through the rear door, they’re blocked from going to the front of the bus by caution tape. Only passengers with disabilities can sit in the front area and use the front door.

Community Transit buses are also disinfected each night. Employees must undergo health screenings upon reporting for work, and most administrative employees are telecommuting. Social distancing guidelines have been incorporated at the agency’s facilities.

For now, Community Transit has no plans of shutting down, though a 25 percent reduction in service is set to begin March 30 — and will reflect the drop in commuters to Seattle, the University of Washington and Boeing.

In the same statement that announced the positive COVID-19 tests Thursday, the organization said all Community Transit bus rides would be free as of Friday.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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