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Halifax Transit bus passengers may have been exposed to COVID-19
HALIFAX -- The Nova Scotia Health Authority is advising Halifax Transit bus passengers that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The advisory comes a day after the Halifax Regional Municipality confirmed that a bus driver tested positive for the virus.
Public health officials are contacting all individuals who came in close contact with the bus driver, but say they may not be aware of all close contacts.
“When interactions are transient, such as on public transit, it’s generally considered low-risk from an exposure perspective,” said Regional Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Cram in a statement released Thursday.
“Sharing information about this potential exposure to COVID-19 will help us identify cases that could be connected and will support our containment efforts.”
The NSHA has released the following details about the affected bus routes:
- April 3 on Route 10; 5:56 PM to 1:04 AM
- April 4 on Route 62; 12:27 PM to 1:33 PM; 4:27 PM to 5:33 PM
- April 4 on Route 60; 1:33 PM to 4:27 PM; 5:33 PM to 8:20 PM
The NSHA says passengers who travelled on those routes on Friday or Saturday may develop symptoms up to, and including, April 18.
They are encouraged to self-monitor for the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
Anyone who does experience two or more of these symptoms is asked to self-isolate and call 811 for further instruction.
HRM said Wednesday that all workspaces and vehicles the driver came in contact with had already been cleaned as part of Halifax Transit’s enhanced protocol.
This is the first known case of COVID-19 in a Halifax Transit bus driver, but two employees who work in the maintenance department in Burnside have previously tested positive for the virus.
Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, says the driver is doing "fairly well, all things considered," but he admits that it's a stressful time for Halifax Transit employees.
"I've never seen the membership so stressed, so unfocused," says Wilson. "That's causing concern for me because when you're distracted you shouldn't be driving heavy equipment around the city carrying people."
There have been calls for buses to be pulled off the roads during the pandemic, but transit has been deemed an essential service under Nova Scotia’s state of emergency.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, addressed the issue during a news conference in Halifax Wednesday afternoon.
Strang said he wasn’t aware of the details surrounding the bus driver’s case, but he stressed that transit is an essential service for many.
“We continue to look at transit and being able to do that as safely as possible, but we also have to acknowledge that for a significant portion of our communities buses are essential,” said Strang.
“We have people that need to get to work and not everybody has the luxury of being able to drive, or it’s short enough that they can walk.”
Over the past few weeks, Halifax Transit has taken the following steps in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- Transit should be used for essential travel only.
- Alternating seats will be blocked off with appropriate signage, reducing capacity by roughly 50 per cent, depending on the model of the bus. This is effective Monday.
- Passengers can only enter and exit through the rear doors, unless the front doors are required for accessibility.
- Fare collection is suspended on all buses and ferries.
- High-touch surfaces are being wiped down more often.
- The first seven to 10 seats behind the driver are closed off to passengers.
- Only 25 passengers are allowed on each ferry per trip, effective Monday.
- Food and drink are prohibited on ferries to reduce litter, effective Monday.
Buses and ferries are also operating on a reduced schedule.
HRM says the level of transit service will continue to be adjusted as necessary, based on available operational resources.
Nova Scotia announced 31 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 373.
The province also announced its second death connected to the virus. The woman was in her 90s and had underlying medical conditions. She died Wednesday at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Paul Hollingsworth