OTTAWA -- An OC Transpo driver has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to an internal memo attributed to Transportation General Manager John Manconi, obtained by Newstalk 580 CFRA, the operator – whom OC Transpo is not naming for reasons of privacy – first developed symptoms on March 20 and received a test March 21. The driver began self-isolating when they developed symptoms and remains at home.

The memo was later made public by City staff.

Manconi said OC Transpo and Ottawa Public Health are most concerned with the 48 hours before the driver began showing symptoms: March 18, 19, and 20.

"OPH is currently following up with family and friends who may have come into close contact with the individual. We have contacted all employees who may have come into close contact with the individual during those key dates," Manconi said.

The driver drove five buses on the key dates of March 18-20. Manconi said each of those buses has been removed from service for a deep clean and full sanitation process before they return to the road.

In mid-March, OC Transpo began telling customers to board only at the back of the bus, with limited exceptions. Yellow caution tape was put up to keep customers away from the front of the bus. Customers have also been asked to avoid taking a bus or a train if they feel sick, or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

"Our customers are being advised that if they have concerns of exposure, they can contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744 to speak to a public health nurse or visit," Manconi said. "As a reminder, COVID-19 is spread through droplets from coughs and sneezes, which travel a limited distance before falling to the ground."

Mayor Jim Watson told Newstalk 580 CFRA's "The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll" the news is a concern and he'll be briefed on the issue later Wednesday.

"Obviously, a bus driver comes into contact with a lot of people over the course of a day," Watson said. "That's why we allowed more space at the front of the bus so people don't get close to the driver, but they're driving tens of thousands of people around every day and obviously it's a concern."

Watson said he believes Ottawa's plan to reduce service to a Saturday schedule was the right choice.

"We saw in Edmonton, they cut back the service right at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and people were packed on the buses, which was counterintuitive to what we should be doing," he said. "Some people have said, 'Why don't we shut down the buses and the train?' I said we can't. Those people, many of whom are cashiers and workers at pharmacies and grocery stores, rely on transit to get to work, as do hospital workers. We have to maintain the transit service for people who have no other choice but to take transit to get to work to provide the services we've come to expect over the last three weeks."

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, tells Newstalk 580 CFRA's "The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll" riders who were on any buses the operator was driving are not necessarily at risk and Ottawa Public Health is not following up with every rider.

"It's considered a very low risk situation. They can continue going about their business," she said. "It's the same as on an airplane: unless you were within two metres for a prolonged period of time, we don't follow up with everybody on an airplane and we don't need to do that with a bus."

Etches said she hopes everyone continues to keep a physical distance from others if they have to go outside or take transit.

"The message to anyone who was on one of those buses is continue doing what you're doing–I hope–which is keeping a physical distance from everyone else as we all are meant to be doing. We can all come into contact with the virus without knowing it and the key is to make sure we break any chain of transmission by not being within two metres of others."

Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert told Newstalk 580 CFRA in an email she hopes OC Transpo reviews its COVID-19 procedures in light of this news.

"It is my hope that OC Transpo will continue to reevaluate COVID-19 mitigation measures as advice from OPH evolves. Specifically, I am concerned that the reduction in buses on the road will lead to an increase in passengers on each bus, which seems contrary to the physical distancing measures we have been encouraged to adopt," she wrote.

Here are the routes the driver was on before developing symptoms and self-isolating:

March 18

  • Route 19: St-Laurent Station at 14:27 to Parliament Station 15:14
  • Route 63: Tunney’s Pasture Station 15:36 to Innovation Park & Ride 16:28
  • Route 63: Innovation Park & Ride 16:30 to Tunney’s Pasture Station 17:12
  • Route 57: Tunney’s Pasture Station 17:25 to Bayshore Station 17:47
  • Route 85: Bayshore Station 17:47 to Terrasses de la Chaudière 18:39
  • Route 85: Terrasses de la Chaudière 18:50 to Bayshore Station 19:36
  • Route 85: Bayshore Station 19:41 to Terrasses de la Chaudière 20:23

March 19 and 20

  • Route 64: Lincoln Fields Station 11:24 to Innovation Park & Ride 11:51
  • Route 64: Innovation Park & Ride 11:53 to Tunney’s Pasture Station 12:41
  • Route 50: Tunney’s Pasture Station 12:55 to Lincoln Fields Station 13:24
  • Route 85: Lincoln Fields Station 13:44 to Terrasses de la Chaudière 14:20
  • Route 85: Terrasses de la Chaudière 14:26 to Bayshore Station 15:23
  • Route 85: Bayshore Station 15:32 to Terrasses de la Chaudière 16:25
  • Route 85: Terrasses de la Chaudière 16:32 to Bayshore Station 17:30
  • Route 57: Bayshore Station 17:42 to Tunney’s Pasture Station 18:08
  • Route 75: Tunney’s Pasture Station 18:15 to Barrhaven Centre 18:42