Oahu Transit Services plans to start thermal temperature screening of all its drivers Thursday after one of them tested positive for the new coronavirus Saturday.
OTS, which runs TheBus and TheHandi-Van for the city, will screen drivers for fever, officials said Monday. The agency also plans to test all of its employees.
Meanwhile, bus riders and drivers who may have been exposed to the sick bus driver will be eligible for testing at five health centers across the island.
OTS President and General Manager Roger Morton said the driver did not follow protocol when he continued to drive for TheBus for five days while feeling ill beginning June 22.
Rather than discipline the driver, Morton said, he will call this a “learning moment,” but in the future, if drivers feel sick, they have to stay home.
Morton and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced the new testing initiatives Monday afternoon outside Honolulu Hale.
The operator, who has been driving for about five years with TheBus, was tested Friday and had driven two routes that day from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. The results came back Saturday as positive.
He said the driver initially had a scratchy throat, similar to symptoms he had before with allergies or the like, but his symptoms progressed.
“There’s no excuse,” Morton said. “He should not have been driving.”
But Morton said he will “extend aloha” to this driver, but that doesn’t mean that drivers in the future will not be disciplined if they drive while sick.
The only other known case was a driver who returned sick from the mainland and tested positive in March, but he did not drive after becoming ill.
The outcome of all OTS workers being tested will determine how frequently the testing will be performed.
Morton said the hand-held thermometers arrived at OTS offices Friday.
Wayne Kaululaau, who represents Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Union Local 996, which represents the bus operators, said COVID-19 “is on their minds every single day. We reassure them that the company is working hard to get PPE (personal protective equipment),” which includes plastic face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Drivers still accept cash but are implementing the Holo card soon, so that would mean handling less cash, he said. But drivers must face riders who talk to them right up to the cash box.
They have had to call police at times if riders take their masks off after they board the bus.
Morton said the company has allowed drivers to stay home without disciplinary process and to use their vacation and sick benefits if they choose not to work. There were up to 50 or so drivers who took leave when the pandemic began, he said, but that number has gone down to 23.
Morton said the schedule had been changed to run as on Saturdays — faster, since there is less traffic.
Also, ridership had gone down, and there is a surplus of drivers, so even if attendance goes up, the company is able to accommodate that situation until December.
By August the company will ramp up to 100% service, as it was prior to the pandemic.
The company is also trying to replace plastic sheeting with Plexiglas protection between riders and the drivers.
Those bus passengers aboard the sick driver’s routes who have no health insurance can get tested free at specified health centers and are encouraged to call first. They include Kalihi- Palama Health Center (381-7009), Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services (791-9410), Koolauloa Health Center (293-9231), Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (691-3170) and Waimanalo Health Center (359-7948).
Oahu Transit Services provided the following times and bus routes on which riders may have been exposed to the new coronavirus from the infected city bus driver:
>> Friday: 12:12-9:52 p.m., Route 42, Ewa Beach-Waikiki, Bus 190
>> Thursday: 12:48-10 p.m., Route 9, Kaimuki-Pearl Harbor, Bus 962
>> Wednesday: 1:30- 9:54 p.m., Route 501, Mililani Mauka, Bus 650
>> Tuesday: 1:01-8:17 p.m., Route 88-A, North Shore Express, Bus 670
>> June 22: 5:01-7:06 a.m., Route 40, Honolulu- Makaha, Bus 801
>> June 22: 10:23 a.m.- 5:56 p.m., Route 40, Honolulu-Makaha, Bus 834