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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF John Williams, transit coordinator at Ozark Regional Transit, inspects Saturday Jan. 13 2018 a new bus delivered to ORT in Springdale on Saturday morning. The bus was driven to ORT from the factory in Indiana. It is one of eight new buses ORT will receive.

SPRINGDALE -- Ozark Regional Transit employees tested negative for covid-19 and riders are starting to come back to the public transit provider, Executive Director Joel Gardner said Thursday.

Garner attributed the good news to aggressive sanitation measures.

Twenty-four employees were tested because they were in contact with people who were positive with the virus, he said. Each time an employee has to be tested, they are off work for three to five days waiting for results. Three employees were told by their doctors to stay home for a full 14 days.

Gardner told his board of directors that Ozark Regional has missed a total of 135 days of work because of testing, or 1,080 employee hours, during May and June. The transit has 64 employees working about 512 hours per day. The loss is equivalent to being shut down for two full days, Gardner said.

"We've got our overnight crew cleaning buses. We've got security that is scanning everybody, contractors included, when they come through the gate. If I leave for lunch, when I come back, I've gotta get scanned because my temperature may have changed," he said.

Ridership was down 52% in May over May 2019, which Gardner said is better than had been expected. The number of riders using the transit is increasing daily, he said. Some systems around the country have gone as low as 25% of their previous ridership, he said.

"We're starting to see a slight uptick in June, and I expect that uptick to continue," Gardener said.

Ozark Regional recently received 1,500 cloth face masks from the Federal Transportation Administration that drivers will be able to give to riders who don't have their own face covering.

Gardner said fears of coronavirus running rampant on public transit nationally have proved false so far.

"It's not been proven that anybody has contracted the disease from riding public transit," Gardner said, citing a recent national study of contact tracing.

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