Wife of OC Transpo driver speaks out about infection fears

The wife of an OC Transpo driver is pleading for greater protection for her husband against COVID-19. 

Tammy Baine wrote a letter asking Ottawa city council to keep her husband safe while he continues working during the pandemic. CBC is not naming her husband over her fear he could face reprisal.

"The stress in our home right now is pretty high," Baine told CBC's Ottawa Morning. "We're continuing to be exposed every single day, because every day that he goes out to work unprotected is another day that our family is unprotected."

In a bid to "flatten the curve" of infection, the province has ordered all non-essential businesses and services closed. OC Transpo has reduced service due to plummeting ridership during the pandemic, but public transit it still considered essential, and therefore continues to operate.

"The reality is we need public transit. The people that are running the cashes at Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart … they often are the ones that need it the most. So to shut that lifeline down would be a mistake," Mayor Jim Watson told Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.

Jean-François Poudrier/Radio-Canada

Essential service

Baine, 40, agrees that Ottawa's public transit system is an essential service, but she's worried about the risks facing drivers and other essential workers.

OC Transpo has taken measures to mitigate their exposure, including taping off the front areas of buses and LRT trains, forcing most passengers to enter through the rear doors. But passengers with strollers or mobility issues are still permitted to board at the front of the bus, close to where drivers sit.

"In the absence of any personal protective equipment, and then with passengers who do still need to enter through those front doors, there's nothing in place there at all right now to protect either the drivers or the passengers," Baine said.

Baine is worried some passengers may be boarding the bus while sick. She points to grocery stores that are "really stepping up and doing things like installing Plexiglas shields for their cashiers. That's an example of things that are being done right now to protect those workers."

Francis Ferland/CBC

Cleaning routine

One of Baine's sisters is a family physician, and she's advised Baine's husband to decontaminate after each shift.

"He enters through the garage, gets undressed and puts everything in a garbage bag to be washed. He leaves his work shoes in the garage and uses Lysol wipes on every surface that he touches on the way in. And then he has to go and shower. That's what she said he has to be doing every single time he comes home."

Baine said she has received a response from Mayor Jim Watson, who outlined the planned service reductions.

But Baine is worried those measures could have unintended consequences.

"For example, let's say the plan is to run a bus route every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes. You could run into a problem where you're going to end up with more people on the route at that time, making that physical distancing even more challenging."

Spare vehicles ready, mayor says

In his response, Watson addressed that concern: "If operators report crowding on any services, we are ready to respond with spare vehicles," he wrote.

The City of Ottawa says ridership is down by as much as 90 per cent, but that doesn't eliminate the risk, according to Baine.

"It only takes one person, it only takes one day to get infected, and it can take up to two weeks to know if you're infected. So that worry is always going to be there," she said.

"We're feeling that constant worry. We have five young children ourselves. We have elderly parents. We're trying everything we can to keep things as normal as we can at home for our kids, and not let them feel that or take that stress on themselves. But that uncertainty? It's a lot."