COVID-related absences fall for RFTA workers since March peak |

COVID-related absences fall for RFTA workers since March peak

Passengers wait to load onto the RFTA bus in the evening on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. RFTA has implemented numerous steps to reduce the threat of the coronavirus for workers and passengers. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

While some employees of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority continue to battle the coronavirus, a survey of workers indicated they think the organization is doing a good job trying to keep them safe.

As of Aug. 7, RFTA at the time had four employees who had tested positive for COVID-19 and were in isolation. Another three employees had symptoms of the virus but test results were pending. They are in quarantine.

In addition, three employees exhibited symptoms but were not sick enough that a doctor recommended a test. They are quarantining. One employee had been exposed to someone with the coronavirus but the employee had no symptoms. The worker was quarantining to be on the safe side.

The numbers are significantly lower than in late March, when 38 employees were out of work for reasons associated with COVID-19.

“It’s a rapidly moving and evolving situation,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship told the board of directors at their regular meeting Thursday. “We have had stretches of time where we’ve had no one that was experiencing symptoms or had been exposed.”

It’s difficult to determine if the employees who tested positive were infected in the workplace or in other situations, he said.

RFTA’s policies are designed to encourage employees who feel sick or believe they were exposed to someone with the virus to take time off work without financial loss. A special policy allows as much as160 hours of sick time.

RFTA has 11 employees who consider themselves in a high-risk medical situation so they are off the job and quarantining.

Blankenship praised the bus agency’s employees for sticking their necks out in frontline duty during the pandemic.

“We don’t have the ability to shut down,” he said. RFTA scaled back service to “bare bones” level in April but has since ramped back up.

The organization has taken numerous steps to try to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers. Buses are only transporting 15 passengers at a time, about one-third or less of capacity. Seats designated for use are spread out and front seats are blocked from use to protect operators. In addition, there is a “sneeze curtain” around the drivers’ compartment to limit exposure when passengers are getting on and off. RFTA has stopped accepting cash because passengers can move more quickly to their seats when using a pass. Buses are being disinfected each night with a viruscide.

RFTA management surveyed employees and got 171 responses, or about 50% of the total workforce. Of the respondents, 83% said they strongly agree or agree that they have “confidence” in RFTA’s response and preparations for COVID-19. The same percentage felt RFTA is “doing its best to keep us safe during COVID-19.”

In addition, 91% strongly agreed or agreed that RFTA is doing its best to keep passengers safe.

Working the frontlines also has taken a toll, the survey showed. About 43% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed “employees have experienced significant anxiety and/or stress due to COVID-19.”

RFTA staff drew praise from the board for its tracking of COVID-19-related issues in the workforce and its efforts to deal with the virus.

“This should be a model for all businesses and agencies,” said Art Riddell, mayor of New Castle and a RFTA board member.