Ottawa

Union demanding answers as COVID-19 cases spike among OC Transpo drivers

The City of Ottawa says there is no clear link between seven OC Transpo bus drivers who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far this month.

7 bus drivers have tested positive for the illness so far this month

The City of Ottawa said there is no clear link yet between seven bus drivers who have all tested positive for COVID-19 in August. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

The head of OC Transpo's union wants the city to get to the bottom of what's behind a recent COVID-19 outbreak among drivers.

Seven drivers have tested positive for the virus so far this month and there are worries among transit advocates that the spike in cases could raise fear among transit users.

"Let's trace it properly and see where it's beginning and that is my expectation from the employer, to find out where the root is of this problem and get it corrected," said Clint Crabtree, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 279.

He said it's not just transit users who are worried about contracting the illness.

"There's been fear and anxiety amongst my membership since this pandemic began."

That anxiety has only grown since OC Transpo began allowing front door boarding again, he said.

He wants the transit agency to better enforce the mandatory mask policy on buses, trains and inside LRT stations, something drivers are telling him passengers are not always adhering to, especially at night.

"Let's trace it properly and see where it's beginning and that is my expectation from the employer, to find out where the root is of this problem and get it corrected," says Clint Crabtree, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 279 about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases among bus drivers. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

It also shouldn't be up to drivers to risk getting into confrontations with passengers to enforce the transit agency's policies, he said.

"In no way shape or form am I blaming the passengers or the public for any sort of outbreak but we would like to see [100 per cent compliance] as well just so we can help keep everybody safe at the same time. Let's let's do it together. Let's keep everybody safe."

Crabtree believes additional measures could be taken, including taking employees' temperatures and installing permanent barriers, not just temporary plastic shields, between bus drivers and the rest of the bus.

No clear link

In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, OC Transpo has implemented a mandatory mask policy inside its office common areas, including lunchooms, and is providing more hand sanitizer at the entrance to its buildings. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 32 OC Transpo employees have tested positive for the illness, Troy Charter, director of transit operations with the City of Ottawa wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Despite the recent spike in illnesses among bus drivers, there is still no clear link between the cases.

"There are many variables involved in each case, both at home and at work. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that there is close contact between employees and customers," he said.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning and Adrian Harewood

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