A man who died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, had been previously transported on a King County Metro Access bus, a paratransit service for people with disabilities, according to a memo from the county’s contractor.
The memo posted at the King County Metro South Base in Kent and dated March 2 said MV Transportation determined that “an individual who perished [from the] coronavirus was a passenger on our vehicle in February.”
The private company MV Transportation staffs Access bus drivers and runs a dispatch center, where riders call to schedule trips, under a five-year, $424 million contract with King County Metro.
MV notified the 10 drivers and riders who directly interacted with the now-deceased passenger and ordered the employees to stay home, said Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer. The quarantine period for the drivers has ended and they have returned to work, Switzer said, and none exhibited symptoms of the virus.
The memo did not specify how many vehicles the customer rode in or when in February the customer was transported.
Access serves people with disabilities, seniors and others with health conditions that could make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Any employees who come into contact with an infected passenger will be placed on paid administrative leave, Jeff Womack, chief marketing officer for MV, said in an email.
MV has placed posters inside vans that provide tips for stopping the spread of germs. It also plays a voice message for passengers when they call for a ride that informs them about COVID-19 and permits passengers to cancel trips during the scheduling process, riders said.
A cleaning regime outlined in a policy agreement between MV and Metro dated Jan. 30 said vehicles should be cleaned daily with DZ-7, a disinfectant that hospitals use to kill bacteria and viruses.
The agreement instructs crews to use the disinfectant to wipe down high-touch areas, wheelchair lifts, seats, driver areas and handrails. Floors should be mopped with disinfectant, vehicles should be swept, and trash should be removed, the guidelines say.
Womack said MV has enhanced its daily cleaning protocol since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“If an operator feels their vehicle is not clean, they can notify onsite operations immediately who will clean the vehicle or assign the operator another vehicle,” Womack said.
Paul Zilly, a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 117, the union that represents MV drivers, said the union is monitoring to ensure cleanings are occurring and planned to meet with MV Tuesday to discuss the issue.
The union also has requested MV provide gloves, hand sanitizer and other protective gear for drivers, Zilly said.
“Part of our conversation in connecting and working with MV is to get personal protective equipment. We’re trying to find ways to track down resources and put them into hands of people who need them,” Switzer said.
Complaints about the quality of Access from riders and advocates under previous contractors prompted an audit of the service that was released in June 2017. That report by the King County Auditor’s Office found that inadequate oversight over contractors and ineffective punishment for poor service contributed to low ridership and costly rides.
MV Transportation took over operations of Access last year.
“We do have additional oversight in place right now as a result of the coronavirus,” Switzer said. “That’s manifested itself in daily calls and check-ins with MV on the status of their ability to deliver work and respond to customers and spending several hours a day in conversation about how service is being provided.”