HALIFAX — A second transit bus driver in Atlantic Canada's largest city has tested positive for COVID-19, a development that has drivers "stressed, anxious and concerned" according to a union official.
In a Saturday interview, Ken Wilson, president of Local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said his membership believes more needs to be done to ensure the safety of Halifax Transit workers.
Wilson said the driver worked out of Transit's garage in Burnside, and is the third employee at the facility confirmed to have contracted the virus — the others being a driver confirmed by the Halifax Regional Municipality on Wednesday and a mechanic confirmed on March 26.
"We are extremely concerned," said Wilson. "They keep telling us that the garage has been cleaned. Only one (case) had direct connection to travel that we are aware of."
When the garage mechanic's case was confirmed, Wilson called for a 24-hour pause on service so the transit garage and all buses could be deep cleaned.
He pointed out on Saturday that while businesses such as the Atlantic Superstore and also the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation had taken similar steps when cases were detected at some of their outlets, the transit garage's maintenance department was down for just seven hours after the first case was confirmed.
"We have concerns about the cleaning protocols right now," Wilson said. "We are starting to reach out to the Department of Labour to get some guidance."
The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) did not respond for a request for comment Saturday, but in a news release issued late Friday, it said the most recent driver who tested positive had not been at work since March 31.
It said Halifax Transit had since cleaned all workspaces and vehicles that the driver was in contact with, while public health was tracing those who had contact with the driver and would test anyone they deem requires testing.
HRM confirmed on Wednesday that the first driver to test positive for the virus hadn't been to work since April 4.
Over the long weekend, HRM said it was implementing measures aimed at helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including blocking off alternating seats with signage, which will reduce passenger capacity by as much as 50 per cent depending on the bus model.
"These changes will significantly reduce capacity and as a result, transit should be used for essential travel only," the municipality said.
As well, caution tape that had been at the front of the bus to separate drivers from passengers will be replaced with a yellow cord as a barricade, while passengers will continue to use the rear doors unless the front doors are required for accessibility.
On transit's harbour ferries that run between Halifax and Dartmouth, capacity will be reduced to 25 passengers per trip, while food and drink will be prohibited to reduce litter.
Wilson applauded the steps but wondered whether it will be enough.
"It's no secret that a public transit vehicle is a Petri dish on a good day. It's almost impossible for them to clean every single touch point even if they are doing an excellent job."
Nova Scotia identified 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday for a total of 428 confirmed cases.
Among the new cases was a member of Halifax Regional Police, the force confirmed in a news release.
"We are now working with Public Health on contact-tracing and identifying additional employees who may need testing," said police.
The force said the employee who tested positive hadn't been to work since April 5, and since then all workspaces and vehicles the employee had been in contact with had been cleaned.
In New Brunswick, health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday.
The province has a total of 112 confirmed cases with 64 travel-related, 36 close contacts of confirmed cases, six the result of community transmission and six that remain under investigation.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said while the most recent results have been encouraging, it's too soon to conclude the spread of the pandemic is slowing in the province.
"The measures we are taking are not going to change,” Russell said in a news release. “We do not want to become complacent and then find ourselves losing ground to this highly contagious disease."
Prince Edward Island also reported no new cases for the third straight day Saturday leaving the total for Canada's smallest province at 25 confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 bringing the province's number of confirmed cases to 241.
The two new cases are in the Eastern Health region. Six people are in hospital due to the virus, with two of those patients in intensive care.
This story by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2020.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press