As the coronavirus spread throughout Washington state, Scott Ryan was worried about his mom.
With underlying health issues, she would be vulnerable, so he urged his family to take precautions, said his wife, Heather Ryan.
But it was Scott, a healthy 41-year-old, who would turn out to be at risk.
After testing positive for COVID-19 less than two weeks ago, the father of three died Thursday, Heather said.
Scott worked as a driver at Community Transit, the Snohomish County-based agency where 10 employees have now tested positive or presumptive positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
While it’s not known whether he caught the virus at work or somewhere else, Community Transit drivers fear they’re at the center of an outbreak.
“The only reason people are still going to work is they have to do what they have to do to get food on the table,” said driver Lela Perkins.
Community Transit says it has stepped up cleaning and other efforts.
In public statements and messages to drivers, the agency emphasized disinfectant efforts, driver screenings and practices like backdoor boarding to reduce hand-to-hand contact. The agency will reduce service starting Monday.
“We remain continuously focused on the health, well-being and safety of our employees, your families and our customers,” agency CEO Emmett Heath told employees in an email Friday.
“He was worried about going into work”
Scott and Heather Ryan met when they were young and they stuck together.
When Heather was 16, “he picked a friend and me up at Burger King,” she said. “He turned around, smiled and said ‘hi’ and it was his little dimples that got me.”
“He was my other half,” she said.
Scott spent years watching and coaching his kids, now 16, 17 and 20, in baseball, wrestling and other sports. “Even a sport he didn’t know, he would learn and always lend a hand,” said Kyle Moore, a friend for two decades. “You didn’t even have to ask and he’d be there.”
Community Transit drivers mourned Scott’s death Friday, remembering him as an easygoing family man often beaming with pride about his kids’ latest achievements.
As a shop steward, he fought for his co-workers, said Kyle Gillette, who started driving around the same time as Scott. The two quickly bonded.
“He wouldn’t take, ‘eh, it’s good enough’ for an answer,” Gillette said. “Frankly, I feel that his death keeps that fire going for others of us.”
After years driving an armored truck, Scott left to become a bus driver in 2015, his wife said. The job offered something new.
“He liked it. It was different people every day,” she said.
But as the coronavirus began to spread, Scott and other drivers pushed Community Transit for more precautions to protect drivers as they are exposed to many other people on the job.
“He was worried about going into work every day,” Heather said.
The illness hit quickly. Two weeks ago, Scott called out sick because he wasn’t feeling well and within a day had a fever and tightness in his chest. He was tested and sent home with two inhalers until, a few days later, his results were positive and he was hospitalized, Heather said.
Within a few more days, he was in the intensive care unit, she said.
Drivers raised concerns, made their own hand sanitizer
Drivers at Community Transit have said they lack enough hand sanitizer and gloves, and are skeptical buses are being thoroughly cleaned. While the agency has offered some drivers a kit with gloves and small sanitizer wipes, the union representing drivers argues that’s not enough for a full shift.
And although Community Transit has suspended fare collection and moved to backdoor boarding to reduce hand-to-hand contact, some drivers say that came too late.
Community Transit has prioritized hand sanitizer for drivers who don’t have access to hand-washing stations on their routes, spokeswoman Nashika Stanbro said.
“In general, there has not been CDC or public health guidance to have bus drivers use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves [and] the Community Transit Transportation department continues to purchase gloves as supplies are available,” Stanbro said in an emailed statement.
“We continue to actively scour all online retail sites and suppliers for available hand sanitizer,” Stanbro said. Recently, the agency was notified of a site with available sanitizer, “quickly ordered” eight gallons and continues to look for more sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, she said.
Snohomish County has the second-highest number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Washington state.
At Sound Transit, three office workers have tested positive. King County Metro announced one maintenance worker had tested positive, but said it would not continually update the total number of employees online. As of Wednesday, two Everett Transit drivers had sought testing, but both tests were negative, a spokesman said.
Across the state, numbers of COVID-19 cases have increased as testing has expanded.
Drivers and other Community Transit employees have made their own sanitizer and soaked rags made out of old uniforms in disinfectant, Gillette said. Some are bringing their own gloves. Others are staying home.
Community Transit urged drivers to stay home if they feel sick and recently offered extra leave in some cases.
Throughout the region, transit has continued running because the service remains a lifeline for some and is deemed essential under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order.
While some drivers said Community Transit should be shut down temporarily for a deep clean of buses and buildings, the agency has no plans to close because it provides a service for “many front-line community members,” Stanbro said
“They’re dealing with people’s lives — literally,” said Perkins, a driver. “The whole state is supposed to be on lockdown, but the transit system is running.”