Calgary bus, train drivers concerned with COVID-19 exposure: union president

As the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases continues to grow in Alberta — particularly in Calgary — the city’s transit operators are concerned and taking precautions to limit exposure to the virus.

Mike Mahar, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 583, which represents Calgary Transit workers, said Monday that the COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing, but he’s pushing for more protections for bus and C-Train drivers.

According to Craig Jenne, an associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, a public bus or train can be an easy place for the coronavirus to spread.

“As you can imagine, a bus or a train during rush hour does cram people into a small space. They’re sharing handrails and handholds so there is a risk of picking up the virus this way,” Jenne said.

Jenne stressed the importance of social distancing while onboard a bus or train and said keeping your hands clean and away from your face is essential.

“We’ve not directly tested or directly measured it, but when we’re seeing the rate of viral spread in cities like Milan where public transit is heavily used, it is very likely that that has contributed to some of the viral spread,” Jenne added.

“That being said, just taking the bus alone doesn’t ensure you’re going to get infected. If you maintain a little bit of distance, and most importantly wash your hands and don’t touch your face, you’re going to dramatically reduce the chances of catching anything.”

Monday morning, many Calgarians waited for their regular train to work. Some are taking precautions to limit their exposure to the virus.

“I try to wash my hands as often as I can,” Ahmed Bilal said.

“If I have to press the button, I’ll press it with my knuckle. I make sure I don’t touch any of the railings,” Lexie Spratt said.

“I try not to sit on the train. I keep my gloves on. Hand sanitizer as soon as I get into work,” Noah Motter said.

Calgary Transit is currently operating at full capacity, according to Ward 6 councillor Jeff Davison.

The more buses and trains that are in operation, the less congested one single vehicle will be, giving riders more space to distance themselves.

When asked if any changes to transit policies are being considered, Davison said the situation is fluid and “all things are on the table.”

“We can only wipe them down so many times a day,” Davison said.

“If you are sick, stay off the bus. You should be staying home.”

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