The outbreak of COVID-19 infections in the city of Santa Fe’s Transit Division has taken another life.

A male supervisor in the bus system is the latest fatality — the third this month. Two city bus drivers also died of COVID-19.

City spokesman David Herndon confirmed the most recent death after I asked about it.

“Sadly, a transit supervisor passed [Monday] due to COVID,” Herndon wrote in an email.

Herndon said neither the man’s co-workers nor members of the public were at risk of infection.

“He tested positive and did not return to the workplace after Thanksgiving and therefore represented no health threat to co-workers,” Herndon stated. “As a supervisor, his work did not bring him in contact with the public.”

The city administration has closed ranks regarding every infection, saying transit workers could not have spread the contagious disease to others. But some in town are challenging the city’s claims, most notably about barriers and masks keeping buses safe for all.

At least a dozen city transit workers contracted COVID-19 during the fall. In addition to the three who have died, nine others were infected, say people who are familiar with the agency.

Whether the bus drivers and transit supervisor who died were vaccinated is still unknown to the public. Herndon said he could not respond to questions about their medical history until “receiving guidance” from the state Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau.

The state agency is investigating whether the city took the necessary steps to prevent transit workers from being exposed to COVID-19.

City policy has a certain leeway in regard to employee vaccinations. It requires workers to prove they are fully vaccinated, or they must undergo a weekly test to determine if they have the contagious disease.

Herndon said another transit supervisor tested positive Monday for COVID-19 and went home immediately.

“At this time he is asymptomatic. The employee’s office has been disinfected,” Herndon stated Tuesday.

Since the two bus drivers died earlier this month, Herndon and Thomas Martinez, operations director of the bus system, have described city safety procedures as strict and sound.

“There has never been an assessment, based on CDC guidelines of time and distance of exposure, that a contagious driver came into close contact with passengers,” Herndon wrote in an email.

He said bus drivers are issued masks and gloves, and they can request face shields.

What about dissidents?



“The one driver who refused to wear a mask no longer works for the City,” Herndon stated.

Not everyone is convinced the system is working so well.

Thom Cole, a former reporter for The New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal who now works in state government, told me he recently rode with two city bus drivers who didn’t wear face coverings.

“I took the bus a couple weeks ago up and down Cerrillos Road while my car was in the shop, and neither driver was wearing a mask,” Cole said.

Martinez claimed transit drivers work in a system that blocks interaction with riders. He said a barrier separates customers from the the driver when they board.

Former employees of the transit system said Martinez’s description was not accurate.

First, they pointed to the city’s paratransit vehicles and MV-1 vans, which have no barriers between driver and riders.

“There’s nothing there, not even plastic,” said one former employee of the transit system.

As for the larger city buses, there is no all-around barrier separating riders from the driver. Rather, customers pay their fare in an open area at the driver’s side. Only in back of the driver’s seat does a barrier exist.

Herndon extolled other aspects of the transit system.

He said the buses have “robust air-filtration systems.” The city, he stated, is committed to using other strategies to blunt the coronavirus.

He cited a procedure in which buses at least twice a week are “fogged” with a disinfectant. Herndon said one procedure is effective for a month.

Vigilance is ongoing, Herndon said.

“If a driver were to learn of COVID-positive status by email during a shift, the vehicle would come out of service immediately and be disinfected,” he stated.

The city’s stand that every precaution is already taken leaves an important question unanswered: How did at least a dozen transit employees catch COVID-19, including three lethal cases?

It’s a line of inquiry Mayor Alan Webber should make sure is explored.

Once the mayor finishes explaining why the city again missed the deadline for filing its audit with the state, he should make time for what ails the bus system and its employees.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(13) comments

Diane Gonzales

My condolences to the families of these men. I am sad and angry that they were not protected properly while on the job. How many people riding those buses got ill because of the city not ensuring that this department was following strict protocol procedures? Webber doesn't have to ride the bus system so it is not a priority for him. What kind of person do we have running this city?

Augustin de la Sierra

I believe Mayor Webber sits with his morning coffee, reads these reports, smirks, shakes his head and declares, "Let them eat cake."

Vive la révolution. Anyone reading the NY Times or Washington Post knows it is just around the corner.

Donald Apodaca

Augustin de la Sierra, YOU get it. The scary part is when the revolution starts the folks that don't get it are gonna be *hit out of LUCK! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Merry Christmas to you and the ones you love. May God save the ones you hate. Peace!

Chris Mechels

As bus riders would appear to be from the population more likely to have Covid, this would suggest that Exceptional measures be taken to protect the drivers. Instead the NM photos shown second rate face masks. How about issuing them N95 masks, for starters. Too easy??

Lynn k Allen

👍 Essential workers must be protected & respected with every protection possible. It is respecting them as well as financially less expensive.

And it seems there aren't many who believe ... "Since the two bus drivers died earlier this month, Herndon and Thomas Martinez, operations director of the bus system, have described city safety procedures as strict and sound."

Upgrade NOW, please.

Dottie Butler

I read a news story in the Boston Globe that showed that while 73% of new Covid cases nationwide are the Omicron variant, 92% of new cases in New Mexico are the Omicron variant.

I'm not aware of anyone, including the media, here in New Mexico that have said that out loud in public.

92% of new Covid cases in New Mexico are the Omicron variant.

Let that sink in, you voluntarily unvaccinated are in big trouble and you have nobody but yourselves to blame.

Augustin de la Sierra

Brava to the comment by Dottie Butler.

Donald Apodaca

Dottie Butler, you are a genius. A public message to the VOLUNTARILY unvaccinated. Please Google: A FEW GOOD MEN Clip-You Can't Handle the Truth -Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter a few good me.

Mari Martin

Where is your compassion? They had to work to support their families. Think about their lives which mattered and their loved ones. It is very very sad that this virus has taken their lives and the lives of many many people. No one asked for this but we have to have compassion for each other during these trying times. My prayers go out to their families and co workers. They, like many public servants are putting their lives at risk. i.e. nurses, postal workers , store clerks all who have to work, and the list goes on and on. Very very sad. My condolences.

Richard Reinders

Has anyone disinfected the ventilation system filters, I am assuming it is a closed loop system and used more now the weather has gotten colder.

Dan Frazier

If City Spokesman David Herndon represents the best and brightest at the City of Santa Fe, it is no wonder City employees are dropping like flies. All this talk of disinfecting buses is just silly. Covid is an airborne disease! Herndon's extolling non-existent barriers (which probably wouldn't help much if they existed) is equally laughable. And where is the transparency? Why does a newspaper columnist have to contact the City to confirm another death in the transit department?

The City should just mandate that employees be vaccinated and eliminate the testing option.

Opening some windows on buses would probably do more to disrupt Covid transmission than any air filtration system.

Thanks Mayor Webber for keeping Santa Fe safe!

Jim Montevallo

Agree. Dave is out of depth and making a fool of Santa Fe. Making us feel bad to live here like his boss. Always lame excuses and nothingburgers pretending to be information. "Sadly" an employee died? Would Dave want us to be "sad" if he died on the job? This is a needless tragedy, Alan is bumbling and covering up more deaths in the city like he did with the needless careless reckless tragedy at tourism department, and obviously operations and safety at the busses is another colossal failure.

I don't believe anything Dave Herndon excretes out of the tangled web. He lost all credibility in weeks.

"Sadly"????

This is the largest most serious grief and pain and loss that can be, and with rage and anger no less, at Christmas. My heartfelt empathy and sorrow for the families that not only lost a dear loved one, but in the context of the tone deaf vacuum of leadership and accountability from their loved one's bad employer.

Sadly they are stuck for life with this disgrace as closure is a myth.

We owe them a RECALL.

Donald Apodaca

Has anyone asked how many folks that ride the bus have tested positive for COVID-19, Delta or Omicron? Where can those of US that use public transportation get a PCR test for FREE? If Mayor Webber believes it's SAFE to ride the bus WHY does he not use it? I remember former Mayor David Coss used to always be seen on the bus.

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