LRTA bus driver tests positive for COVID-19

A second driver awaits test results

A Lowell Regional Transit Authority bus
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LOWELL — One Lowell Regional Transit Authority bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19, Administrator James Scanlan said Sunday.

A second driver has been tested for the virus and is awaiting results. LRTA workers have been advised to stay home and contact their primary care physician if they are sick.

The LRTA — which employs about 60 drivers in total — learned of the first driver’s positive result Saturday, Scanlan said. The driver last worked on April 2, before calling in sick. The transit authority is not releasing the routes driven by that employee, Scanlan said.

“They don’t come in and just do one route all day,” Scanlan said. “In the workplace, everything is being disinfected continuously.”

The LRTA has requested N95 masks from the state, which it hopes to receive “as soon as possible,” Scanlan said. In the meantime, drivers have been given other masks to wear as an added layer of protection.

“We would recommend that customers … be as proactive wearing gloves or masks if they can do that,” Scanlan said.

Scanlan urges riders to limit use of the LRTA to essential travel. Passengers are encouraged to board buses in the rear to avoid contact with drivers, and sit 6 feet apart. Seniors and those with disabilities may still board buses at the front. Fares will not be enforced while these precautions are in place.

“We’re considered essential operation and it’s really important that we’re able to get people to their jobs … or whatever other essential destinations that they have to get to,” including grocery stores and pharmacies, he said.

LRTA ridership has decreased by more than 75% amid the pandemic, Scanlan said. Last week, the transit authority suspended its Sunday pilot service. Weekday buses now run on a modified Saturday schedule.

“We’re hoping that we can continue operating on this modified service,” Scanlan said. As of now, he doesn’t foresee the bus service shutting down completely.

Weekday buses now depart roughly every hour starting between 6 and 7 a.m., depending on the route. The downtown shuttle departs every 30 minutes beginning at 5:45 a.m. Routes 1 and 8, 3 and 4, and 6 and 9 have been combined to form three routes. The Saturday schedule remains the same.

Buses are disinfected “continually,” about three or four times per day, Scanlan said.

“We don’t like to hear that someone has tested positive,” he said.

Regional transit authorities and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority are “in this together” he added.