A bus driver with the Regional Transportation Agency has tested positive for the new coronavirus, Howard County confirmed Wednesday.
The driver, a Howard County resident according to the Health Department, drove a route in the county, including stops at The Mall in Columbia and areas to the south and east.
RTA officials learned of the positive test result Tuesday, and the bus was removed from service the same day.
The health department said it is currently conducting an investigation and said it will be “making recommendations regarding exposure risk to colleagues and the public.”
“The health department is the lead on all contact tracing and determining who was at increased risk based on close contact with the driver,” said Lisa de Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the health department. “We will advise employees if they need to take further action. This is the protocol for all case investigations, not just for this instance with the RTA.”
RTA, which primarily services Howard County, also has routes through Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties and Laurel. The driver is one of 142 Howard County residents who have tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday. Statewide, the total of confirmed cases rose to 1,985 on Wednesday.
Bruce Gartner, head of the county’s Office of Transportation, said the bus was last used by the driver on Friday. The bus will be deep cleaned and back in service sometime next week, he said.
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Gartner said the Office of Transportation has reviewed guidance on best practices in case of positive coronavirus diagnoses and confirmed the RTA’s cleaning protocols follow that advice.
The county did not confirm whether all employees had been notified about the positive case.
Ridership on RTA buses is down since the coronavirus outbreak started, according to Gartner, but there are no plans to remove any other buses from service or cut any of the routes as of Wednesday.
“One of the benefits of reduced ridership at this time is the additional space it allows for both passengers and drivers on our buses,” he said.
The RTA has been operating on a modified Saturday/Sunday schedule since March 18 because of coronavirus, meaning fewer buses have been running the routes less frequently.
“Our message to drivers and essential employees is that they should stay home if they do not feel well, particularly if they have a fever or any other typical flu-like symptoms,” Gartner said.
“With the reduced schedule, we have been able to reduce the number of drivers needed on a daily basis. Our current schedule allows them some down time between shifts to make sure they are taking care of themselves and their families.”