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‘You get worried about COVID’: bus drivers relieved over projected inclusion in vaccine phase

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Metro driver

MADISON (WKOW) - A Wisconsin Department of Health Services's committee's revision of recommendations to include public transit workers in his next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations relieves many Madison Metro bus drivers.

"You get worried about COVID," says driver Clinton Boone, who's been behind the wheel of Metro buses for twenty three years.

During the pandemic, Metro Spokesperson Mick Rusch says the transit operation has taken steps to inhibit the risk of the transmission of the coronavirus to drivers and bus passengers. Rusch says there's a limit of twenty riders per bus - one-third of what the vehicles can carry. He says there's also plexiglass between driver and passengers. Rusch says for a time four dozen drivers were reassigned to bus cleaning duties to make sure buses were disinfected.

"I wipe down my steering wheel," Boone says. "Every time I touch, I wipe it down."

Rusch says COVID-19 positive incidents among the organization's more than three hundred drivers have been few. "We've been lucky," Rusch says.

Boone says he's remained healthy and has assumed the transmission risk as a part of a key job. "We got to get the people around where they need to go," Boone says.

"Our service gets people to doctor's appointments, we get them to pharmacies...and that is very, very important," Rusch says. "We really consider them to be essential employees because they are out there every day interacting with the public."

Boone says he has masks available to give to those riders who board without them.

Boone is eager to receive vaccine doses, but says he must check with his physician to ensure his health will not be compromised as a result of previous treatment for a serious injury. "I was in a bad accident, I broke my neck and back," Boone says.

Driver John Pistotnik says the committee's previous exclusion of transit workers was at odds with federal guidance. "This puts our lives at risk for at least three more months," Pistotnik argued before the committee's Phase 1B revisions.

"We were very, very glad and appreciate we were included," Rusch says of the committee's revised recommendations. Rusch interprets the recommendation to include ten driver supervisors. He says it's hoped bus mechanics will also be part of the next phase of vaccinations.

Rusch says Metro has yet to decide whether vaccinations will be made available at the workplace or whether drivers will be vaccinated elsewhere. "We're just waiting for more information in order to get the drivers vaccinated."

The committee's revised recommendations create a category of workers and others eligible for the vaccine that dwarfs Wisconsin's current supply of doses.

Boone says inclusion in the vaccine's next phase of the rollout is the key for drivers.

"I was just hoping they would go ahead and say we can get it because we are on the front lines also."

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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