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Local bus driver tests positive for COVID-19 sparking heated union response (updated)


A northern Nevada bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement Wednesday from the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County

The driver, who is employed by RTC’s transit contractor Keolis, was given a COVID-19 test by a doctor July 13 and has not been at work since. The test results came back positive and the driver notified Keolis July 21, the same date Keolis notified RTC.

“The driver did not have any exposure or close-contact interactions with passengers within the guidelines of 15 minutes or more and less than six feet,” the RTC said in a statement. 

In addition to social distancing, drivers are required to wear a face mask or face covering while working, according to Keolis policy, and there is a plastic barrier shield between drivers and passengers. In a statement earlier this month, Keolis said they also offer gloves and hand sanitizer to drivers and provide sanitizer and disinfecting wipes aboard all vehicles. Seats on the bus near drivers are marked to facilitate social distancing, Keolis’ representative said.

Just last week RTC announced installation of mask dispensers and free masks aboard all its buses and transit vehicles.

Free face masks are available from new dispensers installed on all RTC buses.
Free face masks are available from new dispensers installed on all RTC buses. Image: RTC

Members of Teamsters Local 533 said the free masks aren’t enough.

“We have proof of an epidemic of passengers without masks riding every day,” union president Gary Watson said in a statement following the announcement of the driver who tested positive. The same statement noted that an RTC driver reported “standing room only, eight passengers without masks” on one bus.

The union tweeted a photo of a message they say was sent to drivers that reads, “Please wear your mask when in public. We are not to deny ridership for not having a mask, do not refuse riders. You will educate and encourage them to use one.”

And that’s the crux of the problem for union members, who say masks are optional for riders which endangers the health of drivers.

“Show me a local bar that serves 20,000 people day,” Watson said. “These vehicles are the rolling equivalent of Petri-dish ocean liners.”

The union issued complaints in late June that Keolis wasn’t following the governor’s mask mandate. They also said they’ve filed dozens of charges with the combined state/federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Labor Relations Board. Watson said the union is demanding that Keolis provide free regular coronavirus testing for all drivers and support staff.

Keolis said its contact-tracing analysis concluded that the employee’s exposure did not occur at work, and that no co-workers had close interactions with the employee.


According to a statement from Teamsters Local 533, a second Washoe County bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19. The statement, sent to media July 23, said the driver is confident he contracted the virus while on the job.

RTC and Keolis later issued a joint statement and said the driver had not been at work since July 14 and “did not have any close-contact interactions with passengers within the guidelines of 15 minutes or more and less than six feet.”

The statement went on to say, “Personal responsibility is critical to protect one’s health and those around you. We urge everyone to be diligent during the pandemic. When out in public, and in the workplace, wash hands frequently, wear a face covering or mask, and follow social-distancing guidelines…The health and safety of the community and RTC’s contracted frontline transit workers and transit riders are the RTC’s top priorities.”

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.