Benning said two additional employees are awaiting results for COVID-19, and were displaying symptoms as of March 27, according to Benning. The male employee who originally tested positive has been off work since Thursday, March 19.
MTA officials said during pre-coronavirus time the Ride to Wellness service was servicing about 400 to 500 riders per day but that ridership had recently dropped to 140 to 150 per day.
Approximately 160 drivers normally work for Ride to Wellness, though the number of drivers had dropped to about half because of the decreased ridership. All drivers and staff are being quarantined for two weeks.
Having learned of the positive test late Wednesday night, Benning explained the situation to employees and decided on the shut-down and alerting passengers who had scheduled a ride for Thursday that there would be no Ride to Wellness, effective immediately.
It is unclear if the Ride to Wellness driver who tested postive for COVID-19 contracted it while driving for Ride to Wellness or through one of the partnerships, Benning said.
“We have to protect employees and passengers,” he said, “We have to sanitize and clean all our vehicles and facilities.”
Ride to Wellness provides services for veterans, seniors and the disabled. Those services include medical rides, grocery shopping, and pharmacy runs. It is not yet clear how Ride to Wellness passengers will be handled or how many may be affected by the driver quarantine.
As for the Your Ride program, which primarily services people with disabilities, Benning said it will continue to operate as usual, though fares are not being waived. City buses, which usually run each half hour, will begin operating on an hourly basis beginning Monday, March 30, Benning said, Ridership is down, he said. Regional routes to adjoining counties are all suspended, he said.
The MTA had announced last week that it was waiving fares on all its regular routes because of the coronavirus and providing protective equipment such as gloves and sanitizers for all its drivers. As for now city buses are still waiving fares.
Drivers have been told that if they see signs of the COVID-19 symptoms, they have the right to refuse service, Benning said.
This is a breaking story with more detail expected from the MTA.
EVM Staff Writer Madeleine Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.