Later this week, Honolulu bus and Handi-Van drivers will start getting daily temperature screenings before they start their shifts, city transit officials said.

They’ll also get occasional COVID-19 tests at work starting Friday.

The new mass-testing protocols come after a city bus driver tested positive for the virus Saturday. The driver had started to feel sick last Monday but continued to drive through the week. He didn’t get tested until Friday, transit officials said at a press conference Sunday.

Oahu Transit Services, which runs TheBus and Handi-Van for the city, had already been planning to take such steps, but the driver’s positive test hastened that plan, said Roger Morton, the company’s president.

The thermal screening equipment arrived on Friday. “We didn’t think we were going to put them in service quite as early as they are,” Morton said at a follow-up press briefing Monday.

TheBus at Ala Moana Center. Sign reads, ‘Stay home when sick’ due to Coronavirus concerns. March 2020.
The sign on a bus at Ala Moana Center reads “stay home when sick” due to COVID-19 concerns. Officials say a driver who tested positive last week had driven for about a week despite feeling sick. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

More than 2,000 OTS employees, including the drivers, will be occasionally tested at work for COVID-19, he said. After the first round, on Friday, they’ll assess how frequently to test going forward — and it will largely depend on whether any results come back positive, Morton added.

If there are no positives they’ll consider doing that testing once a month, he said.

Wayne Kaululaau, president of the Hawaii Teamsters 996, said the union, which represents the drivers, is in “strong support” of the measures. The union’s office, he said, will be closed Monday and Tuesday because one of their staff members met with the driver who tested positive.

Since the pandemic hit, any drivers who feel sick are supposed to report to OTS’ human resources department and stay home, company officials said.

“Even though the driver apparently broke our rule” by continuing to drive, OTS feels the need to support him now that he’s sick and use it as a “learning event” for the rest of the staff, Morton said. OTS doesn’t plan to discipline the driver — but it could discipline subsequent drivers who violate TheBus’ policy, he added.

“It’s very unfortunate, I wish it hadn’t happened, but right now my aloha is toward the driver – he’s sick and we’re going to do what we can to support him.”

Drivers get 15 days of paid sick leave and any unused can be carried over to the next year, according to Morton. They also get 21 days for vacation, which can’t be carried over. Drivers can use those days to stay home either if they feel sick or they feel vulnerable to the disease, he said.

If they run out of sick and vacation days, the drivers can remain on unpaid leave without being punished, Morton added.

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