Heidi Groover has an important article today ($) about rising caseloads among transit staff:

At King County Metro, employees have reported 20 positive tests from the start of this month to Nov. 21. That’s up from six in October and about five or fewer per month throughout the summer.

CT and PT are seeing similar rises, while ST has not. While these figures include operators and non-customer facing staff, and sample sizes are small, the exclusion of office-worker-heavy ST suggests this might be more than the generalized increase in regional caseloads. But it’s impossible to know.

Fortunately, there have been no local operator fatalities since June.

Figures indicate that only 83% to 85% of Metro riders are wearing masks. Please note that wearing a mask is more about protecting those around you than yourself. This is not about exercising your freedom to assess your own risks; it is about basic consideration for others.

31 Replies to “Agency virus cases spiking”

  1. In the case of an operator testing positive does Metro post the route and times that were driven during the period that the person was infectious? I know some restaurants were asking for customer contact info so they could be contacted if any staff tested positive. For riders using ORCA it should be possible for Metro to contact them directly. Is there any contact tracing that suggests spread while at work? Currently the 7 day average for new cases in King Count is around 700. If my math is right that’s about 6 expected cases per 1,000 people over a 3 week span. The number of positive cases is almost 4 times higher for November vs October which tracks with the increased number of employees testing positive.

    Does anyone know Metro’s testing protocol? I assume they ask the requisite questions and take a temperature at the start of every shift. Is there any mandatory testing or is the reported number based on people who voluntarily decided to get tested. We know that a significant number of cases are asymptomatic.

    1. I imagine if Metro publicized a driver tested positive, and began contacting all the known riders along the routes the driver drove during the previous 7–14 days — basically informing those riders (who probably include essential workers) to quarantine for 14 days and begin testing — ridership on Metro would go to zero.

      Plus as Bernie notes Metro’s protocols for testing would go under a public microscope.

      It is a certainty that some of the riders would test positive, from many different sources, and all those positive cases would be related to the positive driver (especially if there is litigation).

      At some point we have morphed from a goal of flattening the curve to zero transmission, especially as a vaccine has gotten closer. This shift is most apparent in the closure of all the schools, in part due to the powerful teachers’ union, despite the harm to the kids and strain on parents who can’t go to work.

      The only way to get to zero transmission, other than a vaccine, is to lock everyone in their homes 24/7, like China did. But that causes more harm than a virus that causes death in around 1% to 1.8% of those infected (not factoring in asymptomatic cases), with the median age of those who died (81) higher than the unrated life expectancy of a male in the U.S.

      This is one of those rare cases in which the public is better off not knowing.

      1. “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

        https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6942e2.htm

        People just need to wear a damn mask when around others. Period.

      2. Though even if Ben Franklin was right about the overpriced Admission at the school named “Experience”, which definitely identified it as having an owner besides Betsy DeVos….

        I really do think that, residing in the Age of Reason, he would’ve had some doubts about the Right To Go Around Infecting People.

        Out of Common Decency, which was his generation’s only real Title of Nobility, when the day’s thunderstorm turned out to have been forecast in Seattle and therefore unable to spark a single key….

        He might also have been willing to visit the homes of the mask-haters whose doors the other Founding Fathers had nailed shut for the duration, and spoon Quaker Oatmeal down the chimney.

        From my experience with passengers, though, and considering the work-travel alternatives available to them, the average passenger’s response to such a warning would be an eloquently-shrugged “Whatever!”

        But Daniel, since you’re an already over-taxed member of of the public, why don’t you contact KCM and Sound Transit and demand that they stop TELLING you all these things?

        Though their low level of willingness to release things like arrival times and schedules shows they’re sorry and they’re really, really trying to shut up.

        Mark Dublin

      3. And Daniel, God willing I’ll spend the rest of my life seeing to it that our country’s every worker finally gets the strongest union protection on this Earth. Crime and Homelessness were a lot lower when our unions were a lot stronger. Which made America that way too.

        And my goal is also to see to it they can protect themselves, their families and their EVERY student from dying of a disease as contagious as it is incurable.

        Though in view of the repairs our land itself is dying from the lack of, might be simpler all around to just hire them at the wages that already save their bosses from even needing union protection at all.

        A year of two of an education delivered under survivable circumstances will not only not kill anybody. It will more likely leave them an educational system that for the first time in its life will be actually alive. The way History’s habitually taught here, likely kills more brain cells than COVIDIA herself.

        “Flattening the Curve.” “Protocols.” “Microscopophobia”. Litigation deadlier than Bubonic Plague. Leave it for the next routine analysis of why Sound Transit can’t fix an escalator.

        On Transit and off of it, the subject here is assuring there’s nobody being forced to drive, assist, or wait on you whose next breath will be the first in an accelerating line of last breaths for you.

        Mercer Island needs you alive to be sure nobody in range of either Link or the 550 substitutes Starbucks for Caffe d’Arte. Trust me. They’re just waiting…..

        Mark Dublin

      4. Daniel, contact tracing like what Bernie is suggesting here is how many countries have made huge strides in containing this pandemic.

    2. Auckland Transport uses their farecard to conduct contact tracing. Riders can only purchase registered farecards, and for the few remaining without registered cards, the onboard card readers will make a different sound upon tagging in.

      It’s possible ’cause it’s an account-based system, which means the onboard systems go online to make a transaction, and riders load products online in an instance. Here, the ORCA system is sad. It’s a card-based system, which means the balance is encoded on the card, vehicles upload/download transaction data upon return to depot, and website loads take 24-48 hours. Which makes ORCA the most pathetic farecard for contact tracing. Next Gen ORCA will be an account-based system like Auckland, Portland, Vancouver, Honolulu, etc. Which can’t come soon enough.

    1. Approximately 2/3 of excess deaths (defined as total deaths per week in 2020 from all causes compared to similar weeks in 2015-19) are attributed to Covid-19. Using statistics for percentage of increase of excess deaths as 2020 progresses can be misleading. Total 2020 excess deaths for those under 25 are 841. Total excess deaths for those 75-84 are 94,646.

      If these statistics suggest any danger it is the high number of asymptomatic cases among those under 25, many of whom are heading home from college campuses right now, including my own son.

      1. So in other words the excess deaths (through early October only) in all other age categories total, at least, some 100,000+ individuals. Was that your point? (RQ)

      2. I think the point is, you have to assume that everyone has it.

        For example, assume that they published this information, and folks were told that the bus driver on the 24 tested positive. They could publish the runs that he was on. So what? If you wore a mask, and sat at the back of the bus, you are probably fine.

        More to the point, chances are, lots of other people have it, but just don’t know. Contact tracing can be useful, but at this point in the pandemic (when things have basically gotten out of control) it isn’t going to be as effective as it would have been in March, when we could have stopped the spread in the Americas. Right now, we should all wear a mask, and get tested as much as possible. If we get the numbers down, then contact tracing becomes a lot more effective (just as there is contact tracing for measles).

        [I’m using “contact tracing” in a broad sense. If there is a measles outbreak, it is usually published in the paper, and word gets out.]

  2. “only 83% to 85% of Metro riders are wearing masks”

    What? I haven’t seen a single maskless rider since Inslee made it mandatory on transit several months ago. There was a significant shift that very day, up from around 75% to 100%. At least on the buses I ride: (often) 10, 11, 49, 124, 131, 132, C, 550; (occasionally) 7, 50, 67, 71, 73. Is it mostly on other routes or evenings/nights? The only place I see maskless people is on the sidewalk, and that has diminished significantly too. Although maybe people are wearing masks more in Seattle than in other areas. When I walked the Soos Creek Trail there seemed to be more maskless people in Kent and Renton than in Seattle, although that was just several months ago.

    1. I see it all the time on Link and the 44. At Seatac Station I’ve seen security (green shirts) not wearing masks on numerous occasions.

  3. The lack of any government to distribute reusable masks to their population is shameful. It’s been 8 months since this ordeal hit yet this most basic strategy remains elusive. The Federal government could have done it months ago via the USPS. Still, local or state governments could have embarked on a distribution strategy by now.

    Face shields also help, and every driver should be required to wear one.

    1. I know the City of Renton ran a mask give away program. I think when I posted a link to that a while back people mentioned other places that were doing the same.

    2. Interesting idea. If the federal govt can distribute tax refund checks by mail, it can distribute masks by mail. That requires having enough masks though, so the first thing it would need to do was catalyze high-volume mask manufacture. In April or whenever it became clear cloth masks were important, it was mostly homemade masks, repurposed bandanas, and small startups (including repurposed factories, like Starks Vacuums). There wasn’t enough for bulk distribution, although of course the fedgov could have changed that. There were some larger-scale attempts. I got a 10-pack of reusable Hanes masks that my roommate found at a navy commissary, but I haven’t seen large packs like that in stores. Costco now has a 50-pack of black disposable masks, which are better than medical-looking white or blue but still disposable.

      Seattle did try to do something; it compiled a list of local manufacturers, but most of them were wholesalers; e.g., a minimum quantity of 10 or 50, so it would require somebody else to redistribute them to individuals. That’s fine if a company or social service buys them to distribute, but not individuals looking for masks for themselves or for small families, who aren’t going to pay $500 for 50 all at once.

      But of course, parts of the fedgov were claiming the virus wasn’t real or would go away by itself, and not wearing a mask was like freedom of speech, so that interfered with sending masks to everybody.

      1. Inslee doesn’t believe the virus isn’t real, or that masks are a freedom of speech issue. So what’s his excuse for not distributing 30 million N95 masks our state has been stockpiling since spring?

      2. He doesn’t have Sam as his lieutenant governor to give him that brilliant idea. Although I wouldn’t say N95 masks: there’s still a shortage of them for healthcare workers. I don’t know what the difficulties are to make millions more: maybe they depend on rare materials.

      3. Wait, the state has 30 million extra N85 masks? Why are nurses reusing disposable masks then? Or is that only happening out of state?

      4. Regarding the state’s stockpile of N95 masks, the Seattle Times ran a piece about that just a couple of weeks ago.

        One key excerpt:
        “In October Washington was prepared to provide about half the personal protective equipment needed by high-priority health care workers for roughly two months, she said. That equates to 28.4 million N95 masks on hand.”

        You can read the rest of article at the link ($) below.

        https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/state-stockpiles-n95-masks-as-hospitals-watch-demand-rise-in-new-coronavirus-wave/

      5. Here’s the article about the 30 million masks in storage. They mention various theories as to why our state isn’t distributing more of them. One is they don’t fit female medical workers. So why not distribute them to people that they do fit? They are now probably in crates, collecting dust, stored deep inside a cavernous government warehouse, like the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

        https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/state-stockpiles-n95-masks-as-hospitals-watch-demand-rise-in-new-coronavirus-wave/

      6. I think the state got caught by the media. Good job Seattle Times. I hope they follow-up on the story.

      7. “I hope they follow-up (sic)on the story.”

        I hope they do so as well. I don’t see this any sort of “gotcha” media piece though. It seems to me that the governor/state did the responsible thing at the time.

  4. I took the 67 Northgate bus today from Northgate to the University of Washington. During the whole trip I was the only passenger on board. Needless to say we got to the university in record time. I’m certain ridership will be down even further this winter during this record spike.

    1. I sometimes go to the produce shop at 65th & 15th NE, so I have to take another bus from Link, either the 45, 67, 71, or 73. The 45 and 67 have always been moderately busy, while the 71 (now suspended) and 73 have only a couple other people or sometimes zero. If the 67 was empty today, it may be an effect of the Saturday after Thanksgiving, or the previous 67 was late and scooped up all the passengers a couple minutes before.

      I didn’t ride transit at all for the first six weeks of the pandemic (which I can do since Pike Place and Trader Joe’s are within walking distance), but after that I fell into a pattern of using it once or twice a week for food, parks, replacing worn-out shoes, or visiting relatives. Now that the numbers are high again I’ve gone back partway, reducing those trips although not elimiting them completely. Others may be doing something similar, and essential workers are still riding every day. So a core route like the 67 won’t go down to zero because there are a lot of reasons to travel along Roosevelt and a lot of people who live near there. Total ridership will probably go down slightly but maybe not a lot. And we don’t know how long this spike will last. I hope it’s only for a few weeks and not a new normal.

  5. It shouldn’t be any surprise that ridership is so low. In the middle of an economy that’s a fraction of its former self, this Fall is the coldest and darkest I can remember.

    But being transit-oriented, we can all take some comfort in the old Norse word for this season. “Jul”, which then became “Yule” means “Wheel.” As the spokes holding the sun have swung it out of sight, it’s also inevitable that it’ll also come back.

    Though in addition to having modern electronic instruments with which we can not only plan, learn, and cooperate, we can also actually do precision machining all the way across the world from our own keyboard.

    The tracks may be snowed in, but the light rail car can be completely invented, designed, manufactured and assembled when it’s time to deliver it at LCC or its Bellevue equivalent.

    And a lot of things that seem to keep aggravating people, we’ve got plenty of time to talk about and work on some more without slowing anybody’s service at all.

    I really do think it’s sinking in that whosever predilection is to Divide, always ends up Conquered. We’ve got a country to re-set and a railroad to run, including buses whose similarities entitle them to share reserved lanes and traction power overhead.

    So, interesting…about Sköll !

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sk%C3%B6ll

    Illustration really does look exactly like the transit scene, doesn’t it? But if Valhalla can finally take care of those wolves and sleds, Mercer Island really shouldn’t have any problem with light-rail cars and ST buses, should it?

    Didn’t think so.

    Mark Dublin

  6. This is sad for those involved, but it isn’t clear whether the disease is spreading via the buses. A substantial number of Metro workers got Covid despite working from home. It stands to reason that a substantial number of drivers got it the same way.

    A driver with Covid puts other passengers at risk, but so does a passenger with Covid. My guess is the average passenger isn’t being tested as often, which means passengers pose a bigger risk. An asymptomatic passenger could spread the disease for days and days, especially if they aren’t wearing a mask.

    1. An asymptomatic passenger could spread the disease for days and days, especially if they aren’t wearing a mask.
      Exactly, in this case the driver is like the canary in a coal mine. If the information of what routes the positive tested driver was operating people would know they may also have been in contact with the super spreader and heighten there awareness level; like taking their temperature twice a day.

  7. Whether it’s a deliberate diversion or not, we need to keep in mind that the 100% known and proven Infector In Chief is the belief that somewhere in the Bill of Rights, the Founders solemnly stipulated a Right To Spread A Deadly and Incurable Infection.

    COVID-19 may be evil but her sense of Cause and Effect is deadly accurate. Call me wicked but I trust her.

    Mark Dublin

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