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MTS drivers call out sick en mass after 5 test positive for COVID-19

Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 21:49:32-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) announced on Friday that 5 drivers have tested positive for COVID-19.

That’s up from Tuesday, when they announced the first two cases.

Those first two drivers both worked out of the Imperial Avenue Division, according to a letter sent out to employees by MTS CEO Paul Jablonski.

RELATED: San Diego bus, trolley lines to see service reduction

“One of the drivers had been on vacation for two weeks prior to testing positive, did not return to work after testing positive and had no contact with riders or colleagues,” said Mark Olson, a spokesperson for MTS.

He said the operators worked on routes 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 25 , 215, and 944.

The news has put drivers on edge.

MTS employees told 10News 90 drivers called out sick one day this week. MTS would not confirm the numbers, but admitted “Call-outs are increasing.”

They had planned for that.

At a webinar on Monday, Jablonski announced they would be reducing service by about 25% starting on April 13th.

Part of the reason was because of a 65% reduction in riders. But he said they also wanted to start “building up a reserve of drivers as we begin to see more and more absenteeism.”

Olson added, “we will have about 100 operators per day available to cover shifts of workers who called in sick.”

Still, it has caused some strain to the system.

"Drivers were not getting relieved to go home," said a driver who wished to be anonymous. "It was chaos. I was worked 12 hours yesterday instead of my regular 8."

Any fears of layoffs or furloughs have been unfounded so far. Olson told 10News “MTS is not laying off employees. And no furloughs."

Meantime, drivers have been pleading for more masks.

“We are commonly not provided personal protection equipment because we aren’t healthcare workers and they claim that masks are not that easy to find,” said one MTS driver on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution from MTS.

“But we are still in confined spaces with someone who isn’t required to wear a mask to ride the bus,” the driver added.

Another driver said he had received a mask, but only one.

“I’ve been using the same mask I received from dispatch since the beginning of the week. Before that I was driving with no mask because none were provided,” he told 10News, also requesting to remain anonymous.

Jablonski said getting access to masks has been difficult.

“I won't kid you by saying it hasn't been possible for us to maintain all the levels that we want,” he said on Monday.

But on Friday, Olson announced they had procured 2,000 more masks this week.

“MTS will have enough supply to comply with the order that public transportation employees must wear face coverings,”he said.

“And in the next week, we are getting 5,000 from County of San Diego and another 5,000 through our own procurement. And another 10,000 are on the way in two weeks.”

Last week, MTS implemented a rear-door only boarding policy and has disabled cash payments in an attempt to further limit exposure to drivers.

For information on the changes to service on April 13, visit the MTS website to check routes.