11 days after fuming about a coughing passenger, a bus driver died from the coronavirus

Michael Levenson, The New York Times

Posted at Apr 06 2020 07:11 AM

Jason Hargrove was furious.

A woman on his bus had just coughed four or five times, unguarded. He went on Facebook and vented his anger, cursing at times. In a video posted on March 21, he railed against the disrespect that he said passengers like her had shown workers like him who were trying to make Detroit run in the midst of a pandemic.


“We’re out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families,” he said. “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 that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that lets me know that some folks don’t care.”

On Wednesday, a week and a half after recording the video outside his bus, Hargrove, a 50-year-old, married father of six, died from complications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to his union and city officials.

Hargrove’s video has since been viewed more than half a million times, and has resonated as a reminder of the dangers that transit employees and other blue-collar workers face as they suddenly find themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus.

“He knew his life was being put in jeopardy — even though he was going to work for the citizens of Detroit every day — by somebody who just didn’t care, somebody who didn’t take this seriously,” Mayor Mike Duggan told reporters on Thursday. “And now he’s gone.”

Duggan said he thought of Hargrove and other workers who put themselves at risk whenever he saw people violating social distancing rules.

“You’re putting really good people like Jason Hargrove’s lives on the line,” he said. “I hope the people in this city and in this country will watch his video and listen to his words, because it’s a message this country needs to hear.”

Detroit, which has endured population loss and the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation, has become a coronavirus hot spot, with more than 3,900 cases and nearly 130 deaths as of Saturday afternoon, according to the city Health Department.

City officials said they were not sure when Hargrove contracted the virus.

But even before his death, Detroit’s bus drivers had complained that the city was not doing enough to protect them, said Glenn Tolbert, the president of the local transit workers’ union, who himself tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday. Tolbert said on Saturday that 200 of the union’s 525 members were in quarantine.

“The fear is real, and this virus is real, and the closer it hits to home, it just makes it more real,” Tolbert said.

On March 17, Detroit’s bus drivers refused to go to work until the city acted.

The same day, Duggan announced several changes to protect the drivers, including waiving fares; requiring passengers to use only the rear doors; and making sure drivers had gloves, masks and disinfecting wipes. The city also stepped up the cleaning and sanitizing of buses, according to John Roach, a city spokesman.

Detroit has also reached an agreement with the Greektown Casino-Hotel to provide rooms for bus drivers who are worried about infecting family members at home, Roach said.

In his video, Hargrove said the woman who coughed on his bus without covering her mouth showed that some people were not taking the virus seriously.

“It’s folks dying out here,” he said, adding that he felt violated both for himself and for other passengers who were on the bus.

Hargrove had been a bus driver since October 2016 and was an active member of the union, Tolbert said. On his Facebook page, Hargrove had posted a photo of himself wearing a mask on his bus with the captions “#ICannotStayHome” and “I’mOnTheRoad4U.”

“He was frustrated, but he was a professional guy to the end,” Tolbert said.

“I just don’t want his death to be in vain,” he added. “I want us to get through this thing, and I want the transit operators around the world to be recognized as first responders and given the necessary equipment.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company