A city bus driver died due to COVID-19 late last month, officials with Oahu Transit Services confirmed Thursday.

That driver, MacArthur (Art) Nieto, a 20-year veteran of TheBus, died Nov. 23, which was about a month after he had tested positive for the virus, according to OTS President and General Manager Roger Morton. Nieto is the only reported transit driver death in Hawaii due to COVID-19.

Nonetheless, OTS officials don’t believe Nieto contracted the virus while on the job because he had just returned from a weeklong vacation and then worked just one day before feeling symptoms, according to Morton.

TheBus Buses lined up at Ala Moana with signs ‘Wash your hands’ due to Coronavirus concerns.
An Oahu bus driver died in November due to COVID-19, but officials don’t believe he contracted the disease on the job. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

He’s among the 21 or so drivers that OTS has reported testing positive for COVID since the pandemic hit Hawaii in March.

Morton subsequently told OTS staff of Nieto’s death in a Nov. 25 email, calling him “our dear brother.” He did not disclose the death publicly out of sensitivity to Nieto’s family, Morton said Thursday.

Nieto was based out of OTS’ Pearl City facility and “everybody was in shock” there when his death was announced, OTS Senior Vice President Jenny Lemaota said. 

“It was definitely a somber atmosphere,” and supervisors described him as an “excellent employee” who would come in to work when OTS needed more drivers, she added.

“We’re all heartbroken really over his death,” Morton said.

The city and OTS have taken steps to keep the island’s essential public transit services as safe as possible, including a strict mask policy for those on board and some $500,000 in overtime to do extra cleanings of the buses. It’s also running more buses along busy routes to give passengers the ability to space out.

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