Rapid tests offered to staff at Calgary Transit bus barn after COVID-19 variant case

Calgary Transit has brought rapid testing to a northeast bus barn as a precaution following a positive COVID-19 variant case at the facility.

According to Amalgamated Transit Unit Local 583, the union that represents Calgary Transit staff members, the variant case was detected in a staff member at the administrative building at the Spring Gardens Garage in the city’s northeast.

The person who tested positive is at home recovering, and two close contacts in the office have tested negative.

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Some 13 Calgary Transit staff members have tested positive with COVID-19 within the last two weeks, according to the union, and 128 staff members have contracted the virus since the pandemic began.

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As a precaution, Calgary Transit requested Alberta Health Services provide rapid testing at the Spring Gardens Garage this week.

“Our operators are working the frontline to continue to provide an important service to thousands of Calgarians every day,” Calgary Transit spokesperson Stephen Tauro said in a statement to Global News. “This is entirely voluntary for employees and is a proactive measure to help support them.”

According to Tauro, the testing is to provide comfort and peace of mind for workers at the facility.

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The union’s president, Mike Mahar, said it’s been calling for rapid testing and welcomes the move by Calgary Transit for the “peace of mind, and knowing they’re not taking anything home to their families.”

“The quicker you can identify it, the more you can hold back on the cases,” Mahar said.

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Yet Mahar said the union would like to see the rapid testing expanded to other transit facilities in the city.

“We think that they should rotate the vehicles they’re using to do that testing throughout all the properties on a regular basis,” Mahar said.

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On Thursday, the National Amalgamated Transit Union, along with officials from Calgary and Ottawa, are holding a press conference to renew their calls for provinces to prioritize transit workers in their vaccine rollout plans.

Calgary city council has also been advocating the provincial government to include “critical infrastructure workers,” like firefighters and transit operators, in the vaccine rollout.

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Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison, who put forward the initial motion for the City of Calgary to begin that advocacy, said those conversations are ongoing with the province.

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“I would really like to see them get prioritized. Now that we’re seeing an increased amount of vaccinations come to the province, it would be great to see those roll out quicker,” Davison said. “I don’t think we’re going to be successful in that conversation so at this point I think if you’re eligible for a vaccination, absolutely get out and get it as quick as possible.”

Mahar said vaccinations will be critical for transit workers, who are regularly in positions that leave them open to exposure to the virus.

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According to Mahar, the spread of the virus among members has been trending upwards with the rest of the province, which recorded an additional 1,699 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

“Although we do have some shielding in place now, the air still circulates in busses. When we’re opening and closing doors and people are moving about, the busses are drastically overcrowded,” Mahar said. “They’ve been scared for a long time and it’s amazing how they soldier on with it. It’s remarkable.”

Read more: Committee tentatively endorses prioritizing Calgary critical workers in vaccine rollout

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