The private company that operates CobbLinc, First Transportation, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Cobb County’s Department of Transportation family is deeply saddened to learn of the loss of one of our team members,” Transportation Director Erica Parish said in a statement released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
She said the employee tested positive for the disease April 17, and a team immediately cleaned the facilities where he worked. Other employees who worked with him were tested and isolated. A county spokesman said First Transportation has not notified Cobb County of any additional positive tests.
The developments in Gwinnett and Cobb underscore the vulnerability of transit workers as local agencies seek to keep public transportation running amid the pandemic. Transit agencies say many low-income residents and essential workers rely on their services to get to jobs, medical appointments, grocery stores and other destinations.
But dozens of transit workers across the country have died from COVID-19, including the two in metro Atlanta.
Mikesha Walker, a Gwinnett bus driver and transit union representative, said workers fear for their safety amid the pandemic.
“They’re scared to death,” she said. “It’s terrifying.”
Walker said those fears have been heightened by Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to begin allowing businesses to reopen. Though the number of passengers has plummeted as residents shelter in place, employees worry Kemp's decision could bring a flood of passengers back to buses — exposing drivers to more risk.
Walker said employees do not plan a strike or “sickout.” Instead, they will report to work Thursday. If they deem conditions to be unsafe, they will refuse to work, as allowed by federal law.
“They’re hurt, they’re scared, they’re angry,” she said. “They feel unsafe.”
The employees also recently asked for hazard pay, though Walker said they have not received it.
Mitun Seguin, the Transdev representative, said the company has taken numerous steps to address safety and other concerns.
She said fixed-route bus drivers in Gwinnett are now working about 48 hours every two weeks, but the company is still paying them for 80 hours. She said buses are limited to 10 passengers, and they must board at the rear door, separating them from drivers. And seats behind the driver are blocked off.
Seguin said Transdev has “launched an extensive campaign to inform passengers that we recommend they wear masks when they ride public transportation.” Among other things, the company also has limited paratransit reservations so that no more than two passengers are booked for a vehicle at once, and it has stepped up cleaning of vehicles and facilities.
Seguin said the company has not had any confirmed coronavirus cases in Gwinnett, though the company allows leaves of absence for employees who have expressed concerns or are considered to be at high risk for the virus.
Gwinnett County referred questions about the details of the health and safety concerns to Transdev. But spokesman Joe Sorenson said the county’s “top priority is the health and safety of the drivers, the passengers and the community at large.”