LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The people you trust to drive your kids to school have been hard at work for weeks, cleaning and maintaining buses to make them ready for students.
But Clark County school bus drivers say their own health and safety has taken a backseat.
They tell 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears that while COVID-19 spreads, the district keeps quiet.
CCSD bus driver Peter Dixon started feeling ill back in March. He was tired and achy but worried if he called out sick, he'd get into trouble.
So he pressed on.
"I was taking some high school kids home and I was getting hot and my temperature was high and I proceeded with the route. I went to my middle/junior high and picked up students and I picked up my elementary kids and I took them home," Dixon said.
Back at Cheyenne's bus yard, he got worse. Frighteningly so.
"It happened at work and I couldn't make it from the bus to clock out. From clocking out to getting to the car I almost passed out at the yard. And I didn't want to pass out at the yard because I just felt that, you know, I just wanted to keep my job for one and for two, I didn't want them to fire me. I've come too far in life," Dixon said, while getting choked up.
His symptoms got so bad he thought he was having a heart attack.
"I just didn't want to die. It was to the point where I almost gave up hope," Dixon said. "But I kept praying, asking God to please heal my body."
Medical records confirm Dixon tested positive for COVID-19.
Though hospitalized and fighting for his life, he was concerned for the kids who'd been on his bus and the other drivers he'd had close contact with, like Cheryl Gorman.
"And we were together the week prior, because as a bus driver, me and Peter, we hang out together," Gorman said. "And then he calls me and tells me he tested positive for COVID-19."
That call from Dixon was the only call Gorman got.
"For me, it was very alarming and concerning because I have an underlying health condition," Gorman said.
She didn't hear from the bus yard supervisor or from the district's transportation department. Gorman says she was never even contacted by the Southern Nevada Health District.
"I was stunned," Gorman said, about the lack of contact tracing.
CCSD knew Dixon had COVID-19. In an email with a subject line "Here for you!" transportation supervisor Shannon Evans acknowledged his medical situation and wrote, "Myself, along with your transportation family, care very much about you."
And Gorman wonders where the care was for the other drivers.
"When one of us gets sick it affects the whole yard! Because if one's down, we're all afraid, God forbid, we can get it from being in contact," said Gorman.
"The contact he had with people was so broad that they didn't tell anyone," said Dave Gomez, president of Nevada Peace Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group that represents support staff employees, like bus drivers.
Gomez believes the district has a duty to inform drivers when one of them gets sick.
"Instead, they'd rather just tape off buses with red tape and put a bio-hazard sign on the front window of a bus and tell people to stay back and not explain why," Gomez said.
Drivers, suspicious and scared, took pictures Friday, June 12 at the Cheyenne yard of buses roped off with caution tape. They hadn't been told anything.
When 13 Investigates asked about the roped-off buses, the district said it did not have confirmation of a positive test and that was done out of an abundance of caution.
But four days after the inquiry, on June 16, an email went out to supervisors saying "A member of the transportation department assigned to the Cheyenne bus yard has tested positive for COVID-19."
That was the second case.
Dixon's was the first, but there was no email to anyone about him.
"I did my due diligence, but I feel as though the Clark County School District Transportation Department should have and could have done more," Dixson said.
13 investigates has confirmed five transportation employees at two different bus yards (Cheyenne and Wallace) have tested positive for COVID-19, starting with Dixon in March at the Cheyenne yard.
The most recent case - at the same bus yard - was confirmed July 2.
13 Investigates wanted to ask about drivers' concerns about them being kept in the dark, but the school district refused repeated requests for an on-camera interview.
In an email, they said due to privacy laws, "CCSD cannot say anything about an employee's health, including a positive COVID-19 test."
As for contact tracing, CCSD says it works with the health district to provide names and contact information for anyone who may have been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive employee and that the health district handles the notification process.
"That's an irresponsibility. They're negligent," said Gomez. "And they're very negligent in their behavior and their demeanor. They're supposed to make sure that they inform their employees that someone has been exposed to this and not leave it up to the Health District."
The health district admits it's not up to speed.
In a statement, a Health District spokesperson wrote, "All newly reported COVID-19 cases receive electronic communication from the Health District. The recipient is provided a link to a Health District webpage where the newly identified case receives educational information regarding isolation/quarantine as well as other preventive measures. This communication is immediately generated once the Health District receives a new case report, and is available in English and Spanish. We are experiencing a delay in the time needed for an investigator to directly communicate with new cases due to the large volume of cases experienced in recent dates, and the limited number of employees dedicated to contact tracing. We have been enhancing our staffing in recent weeks but have not reached optimal capacity yet."
Gomez says that makes it even more important for the school district to communicate directly with its employees.
"The whole entire district in itself, with admin, are responsible to make sure that they protect these people and they're not doing their job," he says.
Drivers also claim they're working without enough personal protective equipment, saying they're forced to use dirty towels and shared supplies to clean buses.
"So when the district sends me an email and says all the drivers have PPE, they have everything they need... That's not true?" Darcy Spears asked Gomez.
"From what I understand, yes, it isn't true. And what I've seen, it isn't true," Gomez said.
The district said it is providing masks, gloves, and disinfectant to all employees.
When 13 Investigates asked to see the PPE, they wouldn't show or allow a visit any to any of the bus yards.
"The negligence is extremely high on the district's side and transportation because nobody's holding them accountable for these actions," said Gomez. "And then we have to wonder what's going to happen when our kids go back to school?"
See below for Q&A with the CCSD Communications Department:
Q: For the employees working who are required to use PPE, is the District supplying those materials? If so, where do drivers get the PPE?
A: The Clark County School District is providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all employees. This includes masks, gloves and disinfectant. Employees are also allowed to bring their own PPE if they choose.
Q: What contact tracing is CCSD doing? We’ve only seen generic announcements asking supervisors to inform staff. Some drivers say the only way they know who’s positive and who might have been exposed to that person is through social media posts. Does the District consider that acceptable and safe?
A: CCSD works with the Southern Nevada Health District to provide the names and contact information for any individuals who may have been in close contact with a COVID-positive employee. The Southern Nevada Health District handles the notification process of close contacts. Any requests for details on how those are handled should be directed to SNHD. CCSD can not legally provide the name or any identifying information about an employee’s health, including a positive COVID-19 test, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Employees have also been reminded that posting information about fellow employee’s health on social media would be a violation of HIPAA.
Q: You’ve said that once you’ve confirmed that an employee does have the virus, you ensure that employees who could possibly be impacted are informed. Is that done with the generic memos we've seen? Those we know who have had first-hand contact with employees who tested positive tell us they have not been individually contacted. Has there been any follow up with SNHD to make sure CCSD is protecting the best interests of its drivers in ensuring proper contract tracing?
A: The memos provided to all employees are provided once the Southern Nevada Health District confirms the positive test result. The Southern Nevada Health District handles the notification process of close contacts. Any requests for details on how those are handled should be directed to SNHD. The all-staff memo is meant to keep employees informed of the situation and to reinforce the importance of following the social distancing guidelines and safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Q: At the Wallace yard, drivers with first-hand knowledge of others who've been on their buses (including trainers, trainees and vehicle maintenance staff) say those other employees are not filling out the bus logs. What's being done to confirm vehicle logs are properly filled out so drivers know who’s been accessing a particular bus?
A: Any employee who feels safety measures are not being followed by another employee should report their concerns to their immediate supervisor or another supervisor. CCSD Transportation supervisors are working to monitor social distancing procedures on a daily basis and provided corrective feedback as needed to keep employees safe.