Quebec bus drivers suit up for a COVID-19 school year like no other
MONTREAL -- More than half a million students in Quebec ride the bus to school every day, and that could pose a big problem for Quebec's plan to maintain classroom bubbles.
For the 2020-21 school year, bus rides will look different.
“As soon as they arrive at the bus in the morning, morning or afternoon, as soon as they board, there’s hand sanitizer immediately to their left," said Bruce Banfill, a transportation coordinator from the Eastern Townships School Board.
"They sanitize their hands before they get on the bus, so therefore their hands are sanitized. They come up on the bus and then they go directly to their seat."
Students will be assigned a seat that will remain theirs for the entire year, and they will have to wear a mask if they're in Grade 5 or older.
Drivers will now have more responsibility in enforcing the rules.
“There’s a large concern for a lot of my staff," said Banfill. Drivers have been asking questions, he said, like "How am I supposed to manage the masks? You know, drive my bus and make sure they have the masks on.”
He is advising drivers to do their best and keep themselves safe.
Driver Stan Kircoff said he feels confident with the safety measures in place. Each night, he said, the entire bus is disinfected.
"I think all the drivers at work are very pleased with all that we've received since we've come here," he said. "It's just going really well. I feel super safe with this."
Even with bus capacities reduced, however, social distancing on board isn't possible.
Infectious disease experts say that could make containing potential outbreaks more difficult.
“Let’s say you have an identified outbreak in a particular classroom," said specialist Matthew Oughton.
"You have to be thinking about that classroom as a bubble with the teacher, but then you have to also be thinking about the other elements of that student’s experience, and that includes the school bus.”
Banfill said assigning seats on the bus in a way that maintains classroom bubbles is also impossible.
“We have mixtures from high school -- Grade 11 -- all the way down to K4 [junior kindergarten] all on the same buses, all at the same time, so it’s impossible to keep the same grouping,” he said.
Oughton said masks should be mandatory for all children riding the bus, and that it would go a long way to keeping students and drivers safe.