RTD-04172020-KS-189

DENVER, CO - APRIL 17: Riders disembark and board the eastbound 15L RTD bus as it arrives on E. Colfax Ave. at Krameria Street on April 17, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

The Regional Transportation District has formalized a policy for employees to self-assess and report any COVID-19 symptoms prior to reporting to work. The change came nearly two weeks after a Denver health investigator found no evidence that RTD was following state guidelines at one of its facilities.

“We have had this process in place since the beginning of the pandemic in the state,” said Christine L. Jaquez, a spokesperson for the transit agency. “It was recently formalized after conversations with Denver health officials on how to address daily screenings in a way that is practicable due to our unique operations.”

The policy, adopted on July 23, instructs employees to assess themselves for 11 possible COVID-19 symptoms, including a temperature above 100 degrees, sore throat and nausea. If employees experience any symptoms, they are to avoid the workplace, contact their manager and request advice from their health provider.

“In addition to daily self‐screening, employees returning to work from Out of State travel, who elected not to get a COVID‐19 test upon return from travel, will have their temperatures checked on site by a supervisor for 14 calendar days from the date of their return to work,” the policy continues.

Following a complaint to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment by two bus operators, a health investigator visited RTD’s Platte Division on July 13. Approximately 250 to 300 employees work at the bus facility, and the investigator found that there were no temperature checks and symptom screenings occurring for employees.

Under the “Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors” order from the state’s health agency, such protocols are necessary, unless an employer allows employees to self-assess and report.

“RTD leadership indicated that a policy was in place, but during our investigation the onsite employees the investigators spoke with were not aware of it, therefore it was not documented in the report,” said Ann Cecchine-Williams, the DPHE deputy executive director.

Lance L. Longenbohn, the president and business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001, said that when he met with RTD’s safety director in April, he received no indication that there was a symptom screening policy.

One of the drivers who complained to DPHE, Bob Dinegar, called RTD’s newly-approved policy an “honor system” that puts the burden of safety on employees individually and collectively.

“Operators live paycheck to paycheck and many would be inclined to fudge their way through rather than miss out on work/pay,” he said.

The World Health Organization reports that it is unclear how easily infected people who are asymptomatic may spread the virus. However, pre-symptomatic transmission, by one modeling study, may cause as many as 44% of new cases. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told MarketWatch that temperature screenings may be a less compelling way of identifying potential COVID-19 cases than originally thought.

“It’s best to just question people: ‘Do you have any symptoms? Have you been near someone who is infected?’ The time spent asking a couple of simple questions is probably more effective than just taking temperatures, to be honest with you,” he said.

Jacquez said that all self-reported symptoms will go into a log. The agency will communicate the expectations to employees through its website, newsletters and meetings.

The most recent guidance from the Federal Transit Administration references a manual issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which endorses the practice of employees monitoring their own symptoms and notifying employers.

"In many workplaces, temperature screening efforts are likely to be most beneficial when conducted at home by individual workers," OSHA wrote. "Consider implementing such programs in conjunction with sick leave policies that encourage sick workers, including those whose self-monitoring efforts reveal a fever or other signs or symptoms of illness, to stay at home."

The agency added that symptom data may qualify as medical records, which are subject to employer retention requirements.

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