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The regional transit agency announces another response to slow the spread of COVID-19.

PMG FILE PHOTO - TriMet is providing masks to its operators.TriMet has now announced three services changes in a week, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The regional transit agency said Friday, April 3, that operators now are being provided with face coverings as an added precaution during the outbreak, to keep both operators and riders safe.

The announcement was made the day after TriMet limited maximum bus riders to 15 people, including the operators. And it followed an announcement that TriMet is reducing service on April 5 because of sharp ridership declines.

"While a shortage of medical masks and personal protection equipment, or PPE, has been widely reported, TriMet has now received donated face coverings for our frontline staff that are not medical-grade," the agency said on April 3. "We will be giving them to our operators and other staff who interact with the public, as calls for more widespread use of non-medical masks in public places increase based on recent remarks by the U.S. Surgeon General and the White House health advisor."

The masks are being made available three days after TriMet announced that an operator tested positive for COVID-19. The agency said the Beaverton-based employee had been home since March 20 and health authorities said his threat to others was small.

TriMet said it has been attempting to purchase masks for weeks, but has been promised a supply of washable cloth coverings from Multnomah County in the coming days. Due to the initial short supply, the disposable face coverings will first go to operators based on medical conditions, age and their level of interaction with the public. This means operators on high ridership lines or on lines that serve hospitals and health care centers will get them first, the agency said.

TRIMET - New signs are being posted in TriMet buses.

The bus ridership restrictions took place at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 2, with just two hours notice.

"This is a temporary adjustment to further help those who must ride during this time (to) maintain social distance from each other. By keeping the amount of riders on board low enough, they will be able to space themselves out from others and the operator," TriMet said at the time.

If there appears to be more than 10 to 15 people on board, the bus operator will ask riders at a stop to wait for the next bus. The operator will alert TriMet's Operations Control Center if the bus is at capacity. TriMet staff will monitor how bus lines are operating and may make adjustments if we see long wait times.

"By keeping the amount of riders on board low enough, they will be able to space themselves out from others and the operator," TriMet said.

TriMet also is placing signs on seats in buses and trains to encourage social distancing. The signs that say "Don't sit here" are an effort to help riders find seats that separate them from where others are sitting, and from the operator on a bus, by at least 6 feet.

Signs will be posted at some of our busier bus stops letting riders know about the limit and TriMet will alert riders via service alert channels and social media. Riders are encouraged to plan extra time for trips in case they need to wait.

"We appreciate our riders' patience and understanding as we try to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep everyone healthy. In addition, once again, TriMet asks those who don't have an urgent need to ride at this time, to leave the seats for those who do," the agency said.

Before that, TriMet said weekly ridership has dropped more than 63% from the previous year after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued her stay-at-home order on March 23. The April 5 service reductions are a response to the decline.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story about the April 5 service reductions here.

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