Santa Clarita Transit drivers are speaking out once again about concerns for their safety as more people return to work, after several said this week an additional colleague of theirs died amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
At least six drivers reached out to The Signal, with the first contacting the newspaper on Thursday morning, saying that a longtime operator died, possibly this week, and that at least two others were hospitalized.
“Confirmed that we did lose another driver. Almost 10 years with us. Sad day for sure. We also have two others on ventilators,” one operator, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote via text.
Another bus operator said via phone call, “We had a union meeting yesterday and they said there were a few people who are hospitalized, maybe one or two, but that’s still a lot of drivers. Right now, it’s a very stressful situation.”
Phone calls and messages to union representatives were not returned Friday.
Drivers for Santa Clarita Transit are employees of MV Transportation Inc., which contracts with the city to provide its transit service.
The city of Santa Clarita declined to provide comment about drivers’ recent concerns regarding a new death, because the operators are direct employees of MV Transportation, according to city Communications Manager Carrie Lujan.
Officials with MV Transportation have also declined to comment and haven’t responded to additional requests for comment.
On Thursday, when asked to confirm a new death among Santa Clarita Transit drivers, company spokesman Jeff Womack said via email, “For privacy reasons, we do not comment on the health conditions of specific employees.”
Word of an additional death comes after five drivers tested positive for COVID-19, one of whom died March 31 after testing positive. Confirmation came from MV Transportation via a letter to employees. Following that memo, the company said it would no longer provide public updates on new diagnoses and deaths.
MV Transportation also stated that it would ramp up safety measures and provide employees with the necessary personal protective equipment, but drivers have expressed concern that not enough has been done.
On Thursday, several drivers said they were glad the city stepped up to provide masks but were worried that passengers were not wearing face coverings.
“We’re getting passengers without masks, and that’s worrisome because some of them are coughing. They are entering through the back door but among themselves, there’s not enough physical distancing. The limit (of passengers) is 15, which is still not within the 6-foot-social distancing, in my opinion,” said one driver.
With California and Los Angeles County easing stay-at-home directives and reopening higher-at-risk businesses, drivers said they fear a possible increase in ridership and fewer safety measures will be practiced by passengers.