Bus driver in Honolulu sick with COVID-19: What it means for tourism?

Bus driver in Honolulu sick with COVID-19: What it means for tourism?

It took almost a week for a driver working for Oahu’s public bus system known as “TheBus” to be tested for COVID-19 after he started feeling sick on Monday. When he was tested on Friday he was tested positive for Coronavirus.  Drivers are instructed to report to HR managers when feeling ill immediately.

TheBus driver kept operating his one route all week for 8-9 hours a day, and  his test results on Saturday confirmed he contracted COVID-19

Today on Sunday Hawaii recorded the largest number of increase in COVID-19 infection of 27 people. 17 were traced back to a funeral.

A worker at McDonald’s was tested positive and according to local information, McDonalds in Wahiawa is closed.

Also on Sunday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority recorded 1930 people arrived in Hawaii on planes on Saturday, including 481 visitors. Visitors are supposed to stay in the hotel rooms for 2 weeks, but it is very obvious this rule is not always followed.

In a press conference on Sunday Roger Morton speaking for Oahu Transit explained, the sick driver had only contact with two other drivers. Those drivers were contacted along with all employees. 23 people employed by TheBus by the company, among 2 quarantined because of this incident.

TheBus spokesperson explained all busses are sanitized by an army of cleaners. Busses operate on a 40% capacity and busy routes like route 1 and two operate in increased frequency to observe social distancing.

All busses are fumed every night to disinfect spots that cannot be reached by regular cleaners.

All passengers are required to use face masks. A plastic protective wall is now separating the driver from the passengers. Interaction between passengers and drivers are very minimal and only take seconds. This is not enough time to spread the virus. According to the CDC such interaction would usually take 8-10 minutes to spread the virus.

“Our highest priority is to protect the health and well-being of our employees and the riding public,” OTS President and General Manager Roger Morton said in a statement. “As soon as we were notified of the one confirmed case, we confirmed that all buses driven by the employee and all areas in our facilities the employee had occupied were disinfected.”  OTS is in contact with the Department of Health (DOH), receiving guidance, and following DOH protocols. DOH received the laboratory report late last night and more information will be shared when it becomes available.

Morton added that coworkers who may have come in close contact were individually notified of the positive test and are quarantining at home. In addition, all OTS employees have been notified via email of the positive test.

The City has taken steps to reduce the risk of infection while riding or operating a bus. “Always wear a mask or face covering while riding TheBus. When possible, limit travel on TheBus to essential trips,” said Jon Nouchi, Deputy Director of the City’s Department of Transportation Services. “We will make every effort to maintain a safe environment onboard TheBus and TheHandi-Van, including ramping up our services levels as Honolulu comes back to life and more people ride TheBus.”

TheBus and TheHandi-Van have taken steps to reduce the risk of infection while riding or operating a transit vehicle. Plastic curtains have been installed on all buses to provide a barrier between drivers and passengers as they board. Seats closest to the operator have been made unavailable to provide greater space and extra buses have been added on busy routes to provide more area for physical separation. All buses and vans are disinfected daily by wiping down all touch surfaces manually with a strong anti-virus disinfectant and receive nightly disinfecting fogging using an electrostatic spraying system.

The City continues to remind the public that only essential trips should be taken on public transit and that wearing a face mask or covering while entering and riding on a bus or a TheHandi-Van is required. Transit riders should continue practicing good hygiene and social distancing. People who are sick or in poor health conditions should stay at home and not ride public transit.

When Roger Morton was asked by Hawaii News Online if he thinks TheBus could operate safely with increasing tourism numbers he responded his pledge was to keep his staff and drivers safe.

Yesterday many check-ins were observed at hotels like the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. Dukes Bar and Restaurant was busy even outside dining hours. The pool area of the hotel was packed, the beaches in front of the resort hand no room to handle more people safely. This is more than a month before tourism would officially open in Hawaii. Social distancing was not a big concern yesterday, how could it be in a  month?

Florida went through a similar phase 2-3 weeks ago and had the highest increase of infections and death every today.

This should be a concern for everyone ready to reopen the travel and tourism industry in Hawaii.  Hawaii certainly has good intentions. Hawaii works hard on finding a safe way to welcome visitors back and rescuing the economy.  BUT are we really ready considering the unknown?