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Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17

Paris Banks sprayed disinfectant seats. Rochelle Brown turns off the cigarette, gets in the driver’s seat and closes the door. Bus number 17 moves westwards through Detroit, USA at 8:37.

Jump on the bus: an employee at a fast food restaurant, a supermarket cleaner, a warehouse worker serving Amazon orders.

By 9.15am, all seats in the car were occupied – strangers sitting shoulder to shoulder. The city is large enough, but on this bus, one morning last week, there was no way to socially distance the 12-meter-long bus. When asked by the New York Times , the passengers were worried and uncomfortable, even surrendered.

“I don’t like it, but I still have to go,” Valerie Brown, 21, a fast-food restaurant employee, told the New York Times through a blue mask.

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
There is no way to socialize on a 12-meter bus. 

Unique means with many people

Detroit, with 80% of its population black, has become an epidemic hotspot in the US with more than 7,000 infections and more than 400 deaths. One reason is that this city has a lot of unfortunate workers at home, working from laptops in the living room. They also don’t have the means to go to the supermarket themselves.

So they boarded the bus number 17, which was unavoidably crowded but an essential means for them, and at the same time risked an increase in the disease that was raging in Detroit. The ride is also typical of the inequality the virus has exposed in the United States.

In mid-March, about 550 city drivers took a day off because of safety concerns, forcing officials to take safety measures: getting passengers in the back door. ), force customers to wear masks, gloves, disinfect car regularly.

The city also provides frontline staff, including bus drivers, an additional $ 800 per month to compensate for the risks, and also give masks to passengers on the ride.

But on the first day of the masking initiative, on bus 17, driver Rochell Brown was still not wearing mask.

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
Driver Rochelle Brown.

A manager said passengers are not required to wear. But Ms Brown, 49, thinks it needs to be forced. A colleague of hers died this month because of Covid-19.

She is also at high risk, because of high blood pressure and had a heart attack two years ago. The doctor suggested that she take a break to ensure safety. But she was still here, on a sunny spring morning, the weather was warm, sunny, doing “essential” work for a salary of $ 19.13 an hour.

But she did not feel the praise and praise the police or the doctor received. No one stood outside the window and clapped for her. Instead, she often gets frustrated.

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
Detroit provides frontline staff, including bus drivers, an additional $ 800 per month to cover risks

Bus 17 travels nearly 40 km along the “8-mile Road”, which is famous for being a dividing line between the crowded Detroit metropolitan area and the white suburbs.

Sitting in the car, passengers will clearly see the epidemic story. The street was deserted, passing through the empty parking lot of the supermarket center that was closed and then another busy parking lot of a supermarket.

That’s where Demetrius Jordan, 37, got off the bus to do cleaning. The first thing he will do is wash his hands.

No essential items still take the bus

notice on the Detroit Department of Transportation website recommends that passengers limit buses to essential needs.

Drivers and passengers said people didn’t listen to the recommendation. There are people in the car shopping, visiting family and friends, and even the homeless.

Ms. Brown, the driver, said that she should have asked guests to present the paperwork that is essential.

“If that’s the case, that’s good – show proof why they’re out, so I know what I’m risking my life for,” she told the New York Times . “I see too many people don’t care.”

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
Bus stop 17 in Detroit. 

Another passenger was also pressing. “I am an essential employee,” the person said. “I have to take the bus and I’m bored of being on the same bus with people who just want to visit others, because they’re bored at home.”

Valerie Brown, fast food staff, got in the car before 9am when the car was quite empty. After 20 minutes, a man sat right next to her, annoying her.

“I think, why would you want to sit right next to others when there are so many empty seats,” she told the New York Times .

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
Valerie Brown is waiting for car number 17 to go home after work. 

About one-third of the above seats are fenced so the driver does not have close contact with the passengers, leaving 29 seats. In that morning, the busiest time there were 21 passengers. Despite orders at home, buses are often crowded, according to Ms Brown, fast-food restaurant staff. If the car is too crowded, she often waits for the next bus, rather than risking it.

That’s because she lives with her 46 year old mother and is fighting pneumonia, so she doesn’t want to spread it to her mother.

“I work at a restaurant, at high risk. It can’t be helped because I still have to work. ”

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
One gets on the bus after work.

Frustration, tension

When they arrived at the end after 1:38, the car turned around, and more passengers boarded, many wearing masks. But the atmosphere became tense.

When a passenger tried to sit next to a young man wearing a square towel to cover his face, the young man refused to let him and just to another seat. Then he pulled a towel up to cover his nose and tightened.

An elderly woman carrying two bags moved to sit in the seat between the two passengers. One of the passengers reacted, asking why the woman sat so close. “Sorry,” the passenger said, “keeping a distance of 2 meters.”

The elderly lady pointed to the chair where she sat, saying a woman behind her coughed out loudly. The woman who coughed then muttered a few words behind the yellow mask.

Paris Banks, the girl who had disinfected the seats mentioned at the beginning of the article, wondered if the number of trips reduced made the bus crowded. During the week, buses run on the schedule of the 7th day, meaning fewer trips.

She was “a bit scared” when she took the bus, and sometimes asked a colleague to take her away. She worries that the infection will spread to colleagues at the National Guard, which is often in contact with many people.

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
Paris Banks boarded the bus number 17.

AJ Harris, 24, wears a mask, but doesn’t worry about taking the bus. His attitude is surrender rather than courage.

“These buses were dirty before the outbreak,” Harris, on his way to Amazon’s warehouse to work, told the New York Times . “You get in the car every day with people with HIV or bed bugs, all kinds of diseases. This is just a dirty bus like that. ”

“At this rate it won’t help.”

Driver Brown does everything possible to control the crowd on the vehicle.

She didn’t let anyone stand, even though most passengers wanted to stand, so passengers often got upset when they had to sit. She would leave when the car was too crowded, but she didn’t like it because she knew people waiting for the car were trying to get to work on time. When leaving the station, she saw the passengers brandishing their hands, even someone threw bags at the bus.

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
A driver is disinfecting a car before starting to go. 

She also often heard frustrating, complaining, and yelling words from behind the bus. A man cursed because she was abandoned.

The car returns to the first station at 11:57. After 3 hours and 20 minutes in total, she had enough. Just got off the bus, some passengers came to ask for a mask, because before another driver did not let them get in the car without wearing a mask. Mrs. Brown said she did not have a mask, and they continued to complain in frustration.

“It was very stressful,” Brown said, and at that moment Brown decided that she would follow the doctor’s advice to take a two-week sick leave.

Virus exposes inequality in the United States on bus number 17
Passengers get off the bus in Detroit. 

This week, things got worse, according to Valerie Brown, a fast-food restaurant clerk. She texted the New York Times, saying it had posted notices in some seats, asking passengers to leave it blank. But this suggestion is ignored. At times, when the bus had only room to stand, the driver still allowed more passengers to board.

She texted with two sad faces. “At this rate, it’s no better.”

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