For her co-workers at King County Metro, Samina Hameed could turn a bad day around.
“The warmth of her smile would just overshadow any problems I would have,” Metro driver Rick Harris said. “Instantly, my day would turn better.”
Hameed, 59, died Thursday from complications of COVID-19, the first Metro driver who is known to have died after contracting the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
Hameed’s husband is also a Metro operator; they have three children and a daughter-in-law, according to a message posted for drivers at bus bases. Hameed, who started driving for Metro in 2017, worked out of bases on the Eastside.
While it’s not known where Hameed contracted the coronavirus, her death has left Metro drivers who knew her in mourning as they continue to reckon with their role as essential workers amid the pandemic. Ridership across local transit systems has dropped dramatically, but drivers continue to work in regular contact with the public and with limited protection.
The union representing 4,000 Metro workers has called for a requirement that passengers wear masks to board, $2-per-hour hazard pay and for buses to go into “drop off only mode” once a certain number of riders have boarded. Metro has stopped fare collection and directed riders to board through back doors to reduce contact with drivers, distributed cloth masks, and deployed security staff to monitor buses and terminals that are still experiencing crowding, according to the agency.
More than 80 transit workers across the United States have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the national Amalgamated Transit Union.
Last month, Scott Ryan, a 41-year-old driver for Community Transit in Snohomish County, died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Hameed’s death is the first among Metro drivers, amplifying their concerns about working on the front lines.
“I try to be dedicated, but how dedicated do you want to be?” driver Karin Peterson said. “We’re all scared.”
Hameed was warm and perceptive, co-workers said, eager to comfort friends having a hard time. Peterson bonded with Hameed over their shared love of dogs and stories about Hameed’s Doberman, Sofi, she said. When Peterson’s mom died, she found comfort in Hameed’s kindness at work.
“She was always very aware when something was wrong and wanted to make sure you were OK,” Peterson said.
“She was a very good friend,” said Patricia Corona, who also works as a Metro driver and first met Hameed when she worked as manager of a jewelry store where Corona used to shop. “She worries about all her friends.”
At Metro, Hameed tried to align her schedule with her husband’s so they could have meals together, Corona said. “They were together, all the time, everywhere,” she said.
“Anyone she came in contact with is hurting right now,” Harris said.
Like other drivers, Harris has worried about his safety on the job, but “I can’t let the fear overwhelm me,” he said, “because I have to go to work.”
Already mourning her friend, Corona arrived at work Monday morning to see a small memorial to Hameed. Friends and family had urged Corona to stay home from work, but she pressed on, saying she would be careful. On Monday, she felt differently.
“No, I don’t want to go through that,” she said. She decided to take some time off.