On Saturday, March 21, Jason Hargrove parked the Detroit city bus he’d been driving. He had to get something off his chest.
A middle-aged woman had boarded earlier and then coughed several times without covering her mouth. To a transit worker already worried about the pandemic, an action that might otherwise just be considered rude had suddenly become threatening, he explained in an 8-minute Facebook video.
Days later, Hargrove told his Facebook followers he was feeling sick and had quarantined himself.
By Wednesday, he was dead.
Hargrove’s impassioned Facebook video is now bringing attention to the plight of Detroit’s bus drivers ― and of the transit workers across the country who carry essential workers where they need to be as the crisis continues.
“This coronavirus shit is for real, and we out here as public workers just doing our job, trying to make an honest living, take care of our families,” Hargrove said in the video, which has now been viewed more than 140,000 times.
“But for you to get on the bus, and stand on the bus, and cough several times without covering up your mouth, and you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that lets me know that some folks don’t care. Utterly don’t give a fuck ― excuse my language, but that’s how I feel right now,” he said.
Hargrove waited until he was able to take a break before going off about the passenger.
“I’m trying to be the professional that they want me to be, so I kept my mouth closed,” he said. It remains impossible to know whether he contracted the virus that day or at some other point.
Hargrove, 50, died at Detroit Medical Center Sinai Grace Hospital ― one of the most overwhelmed facilities in the city ― without anyone that he knew by his side, his brother Eric Colts told HuffPost. He had attempted to seek treatment at the facility twice before finally being admitted and placed on a ventilator, no visitors allowed.
“Knowing that he was in that hospital and he died alone was the most crushing thing for all of us,” Colts said.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan confirmed the driver’s death in a Thursday press briefing on the city’s coronavirus outbreak.
Hargrove was a family-oriented man who left behind a wife, three sons and a daughter. He’d recently become the main breadwinner in the family after his wife got laid off from her hotel job, and he kept driving the buses despite knowing that his diabetes might make him more susceptible to the virus.
Colts described his brother’s heart-wrenching final days, saying Hargrove appeared to be recovering on the Friday before his death. Doctors said he was improving, Colts told HuffPost. Sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday, however, he succumbed to his illness ― Colts said the family had not been immediately informed of Hargrove’s death and remained uncertain Friday afternoon when, precisely, his brother took his last breath.
“He had that attitude where he never met a stranger. Anyone that came in contact with him, you’d fall in love with him instantly, you know?” recalled Colts, who is also a transit worker. The brothers worked side-by-side for the Detroit Department of Transportation.
“He still to this day would have been going to work, because he loves the city,” Colts said, adding, “We both always say the East Side raised us, but Detroit made us.”
“The man loved the city of Detroit, and he loved the people that he was picking up.”
Public transit workers are considered essential in many places across the U.S. during the coronavirus crisis because they help other essential employees get to work. But unions representing them have been calling on authorities to provide better protections, such as personal protective equipment and better access to testing, to avoid the spread of illness among their ranks.
Detroit officials put new protocols into place beginning March 18, after a widespread work stoppage over unsafe working conditions. Drivers feared that not enough was being done to protect them from the virus; in response, the city suspended bus fares to limit contact with passengers, and stepped up cleaning and sanitation efforts. Passengers are no longer allowed to sit in the seats nearest the driver.
Now that buses are free, however, drivers are reporting that people are boarding who might otherwise not ride.
The president of the local transportation union, Glenn Tolbert ― who heads up Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26 ― told The Detroit Free Press that drivers are still “really worried” and “obviously scared” to keep doing their jobs. Tolbert himself has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, he told the paper.
Hargrove made it clear in his Facebook video that he was not blaming local, state or federal government officials for the passenger who gave him a scare.
Though his brother criticized the federal response to the coronavirus, he acknowledged that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) seemed to be doing her best.
But transit workers remain at serious risk, Colts said.
If it were up to him, the buses wouldn’t be running at all.
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