SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — Western Mass News has received multiple calls on what bus companies are doing to protect their drivers and what will happen when air ventilation isn’t possible on the buses come the winter.
Western Mass News reached out to several bus companies across the region and breakdown the state’s guidelines when it comes to bus transportation.
As schools prepare to return to the classroom amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are concerned about the bussing situation.
Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of general pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center, said the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus in a bus is by cracking the windows.
“We need to minimize that and airflow seems to be the best way,” he said.
Something the state has now mandated, bus guidance released at the end of July requires busses to have ventilation by “keeping the windows open at all times during operation.”
One Western Mass News viewer who wishes to remain anonymous called her concerns into our newsroom.
“I have concerns about school busses and how they have to leave their windows open,” she said. “What are you going to do when it starts raining or snowing?”
However, there is an exception to the state’s rule, the guidance noting that the mandate need not apply, “unless not possible due to extreme weather conditions” in which case the bus windows can be closed.
There is a problem with that, O’Reilly said.
“What we know in an enclosed indoor space which a school bus is, is a place the virus is really going to be transferred,” he said.
It’s not just the kids people are concerned about.
“I hear all about schools, teachers, the committee meeting but what are they doing to protect the school bus drivers,” the viewer asked.
Everyone on the bus including the driver is required to wear a mask.
Under the state’s guidance, school districts are asked to leave the bench immediately behind the driver’s seat vacant to maintain a physical distance for the driver.
“We’re doing the first two behind the driver,” said Pam Reipold, executive vice president of Travel Kuz.
Western Mass News spoke to her over the phone. They service Franklin County Tech School, Mohawk Regional, Pioneer Valley Regional, Gill-Montague Regional and Greenfield Public Schools, to name a few.
Reipold said they’re taking the state’s guidance one step further leaving two benches open behind the driver for increased distance.
“We have assigned one driver to each vehicle,” she said. “They don’t share busses anymore.”
In addition to daily health screenings of drivers, busses will be disinfected in between routes and they’ll be thoroughly cleaned in the morning and at night.
“We’re disinfecting our busses twice a day with a fogging system,” she said.
Under the state’s bus guidelines, it says drivers should be trained to observe students upon entry of symptoms.
Reipold had something to say about that.
“Bus drivers need to drive the bus,” she said. “So having the bus driver screening the children is not the safest option at all.”
Rather than having bus drivers flag for student’s COVID-19 symptoms, they have a plan.
“If districts opt for that, they’ll be placing monitors on the busses,” she said.
Western Mass News also reached out to the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, Lecrenski Brothers Incorporated and Five Star Transportation and has not heard back from them.
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