VIA bus operator Timothy Delahunt died Nov. 7 after contracting the novel coronavirus. 

The 54-year-old had worked for VIA Metropolitan Transit for 28 years, said Juan Amaya, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 694, the union representing most of VIA’s drivers and maintenance workers. Delahunt was the second bus operator to die from COVID-19, Amaya said; Harvey A. Fauria died in September. The circumstances that led to Delahunt’s coronavirus infection were unknown.

“Since I met him, he was a mentor,” Amaya said of Delahunt. “He actually was a veteran … I remember him because of the giggle he had. Everybody knew it, he would giggle and bounce. He was very friendly with everybody.”

VIA President and CEO Jeff Arndt notified VIA employees of Delahunt’s death in a Nov. 8 letter.

“During his nearly three decades of service to the community as a VIA operator, he was known as a helpful and dedicated co-worker with an impressive safety record, having achieved 24 years of safe driving without a preventable accident,” Arndt wrote.

“The entire VIA family joins Mr. Delahunt’s wife, Marcia, their children, friends, and family in mourning this great loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time.”

Family and friends remembered Delahunt at a funeral service Tuesday, Amaya said. That same day, Tremell Brown, vice president of safety, training, and system security for VIA, told VIA board members about a new coronavirus prevention tactic involving more permanent shields to protect bus drivers.

Earlier in the pandemic, bus drivers had a thin plastic sheet acting as the divider between the driver and the riders, Amaya said, describing it as a “shower curtain.” Now, about 200 buses have had doors installed to create an enclosed space for bus operators. The top half of the door has glass that slides open if the operator needs to access the farebox but otherwise blocks riders from the driver’s area. The mechanism shields drivers from not only airborne droplets but potentially violent riders.

“[The door] also protects the operator compartment from tampering while the operator may be securing our customers that utilize wheelchairs or may be away from the seat,” Brown said.

A protective barrier and sliding glass window keeps VIA bus drivers protected while operating. Credit: Courtesy / VIA Metropolitan Transit

Brown estimated that all vehicles in the fleet would have these compartment doors installed by the end of December, with about 30 to 40 doors shipped to VIA from the manufacturer each week. Amaya said the union had been advocating for the measure for a long time, but the implementation was hindered by shipping delays.

“We had to push past some obstacles,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, it was hard to get done.”

VIA also reported two more cases of COVID-19 among its employees Tuesday. The transit agency also said there are 10 active cases within the organization, all of whom are recovering at home. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, 77 bus operators, 38 administrative employees, and 41 maintenance workers have reported testing positive for the virus.

Amaya said his next priority is to ask VIA to program an automatic announcement that plays when the bus doors open that would instruct passengers to put on a face covering. Amaya urged people using VIA services to “mask up”; face coverings are required to board a VIA bus.

“Cases are rising now, everywhere, in every state,” Amaya said. “We really can’t say where [bus drivers] are getting this COVID. … One of the biggest concerns is people don’t want to wear masks or aren’t wearing them properly. We have to keep telling people, ‘Sir, please put your mask on.’”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.