It took nearly two months, but the GRTC is stepping up virus protection for drivers who have maintained the transit system during the pandemic.
Four drivers have tested positive for COVID-19, including one who is hospitalized.
An order of 400 face shields arrived on Monday and were distributed to drivers ready to wear the extra layer of protection.
The face shields – 200 purchased and 200 donated – were from the Good Work Society Online, a coalition of nonprofit volunteers that West Point resident and networking guru Larkin Garbee created and leads as executive director.
Ms Garbee, a graduate of the Commonwealth University of Virginia, created the organization to connect volunteers in the Richmond area with access to 3D printers to produce the shields and RVAProjectShield to help get them made and put between the hands of essential workers.
The GRTC is also upgrading 87 additional CARE buses and 88 vans with protective screens to insulate drivers, spokeswoman Carrie Rose Pace said. Driver shields were previously installed on 31 buses, she noted.
The company also continues to purchase and supply cloth masks, protective gloves and cleaning supplies for drivers and other staff, Pace added. The company had previously stepped up disinfection of buses before they were sent on the road, removed fares and brought passengers in through rear doors to reduce contact with drivers.
Julie Timm, general manager of the GRTC, urges all bikers to wear masks.
“Now that businesses are reopening,” Ms. Timm said, “many more people will need our services to get to work, and there is no possibility of social distancing on a crowded bus. It’s simple: wear a mask.
Three weeks ago, the GRTC and the president of the bus drivers’ union, Local 1220 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, engaged in a verbal war over driver health and safety after 46 drivers broke up. were declared ill on April 27, forcing service cuts that day. Some drivers have indicated that they are protesting what they see as the company’s less than adequate response to the virus.
Ms Timm initially threatened to withhold sick pay from drivers who failed to show up for work, but backed down after the first driver reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 two days after the work stoppage. The case turned out to be a false positive, but the discovery changed the dynamics.
Between May 1 and May 2, the company halted service to allow drivers and other workers to get tested for the virus. Three drivers were ultimately found to be infected, bringing the total number of infected employees to four out of 273 tested.
Three drivers have tested positive for the coronavirus, but one driver, who had initially tested negative, was retested after feeling ill and hospitalized, where she remains. Six other GRTC drivers she has been in contact with have been quarantined until May 21, Ms Pace said. All have apparently tested negative for the virus.
Ms Timm, in a public statement on May 8, expressed concern for those infected and said the company is “working with the Virginia Department of Health to quarantine staff as needed to contain any possible spread. and identify appropriate test frequencies for all. GRTC staff are moving forward.