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Henrico gets 40 school buses with air conditioning

Studies: Could reduce COVID-19 transmission
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 9:06 PM EDT
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Some Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) students may come to have the coolest ride to school for in-person learning.

Forty brand-new buses purchased recently are equipped with climate control; they will soon hit the road.

With several COVID-19 outbreaks within Henrico Schools linked to buses, school leaders hope this new equipment will reduce the risk of transmission.

Earlier this year several parents had concerns about the risk of transmission; now the school system is hoping to ease those fears comes the fall.

“It’s a big difference, a big difference,” said Michael Roberts, the Assistant Supervisor for HCPS’s Student Transportation Department.

Of HCPS’s roughly 600 yellow fleet, only special needs buses were equipped with climate control before now.

“Cars have air conditioning and now we have air conditioning as well on the buses,” said Jim Ellis, the Director of HCPS’s Student Transportation Department.

This equipment coming at a much-needed time, not only for the season but the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC is looking into whether this equipment helps mitigate the transmission of COVID.

“Whether the ventilation on school buses with climate control are effective or not effective,” Ellis said. “They do have a filter on them.”

Since students started returning to the classroom at the end of February, there have been six COVID-19 outbreaks; four were linked to school transportation.

“We try every day to make sure the bus is sanitized after every single run,” Roberts said.

One of the six outbreaks was linked to a classroom while the last outbreak was in athletics.

Meanwhile, Henrico transportation experts continue to look for new ways to keep students safe. It is why all new buses now come equipped with seat belts.

“This shows the right-hand side of the bus,” Roberts said. “The camera is located actually in the middle of the bus at the very top. So, this is actually like a blind spot camera.”

Three-sixty cameras were also installed on the outside of the buses. That does not include the six cameras inside the bus.

There is also auto-brake technology to prevent the vehicle from rolling forward or backward when stopped.

With this new technology, HCPS is hoping to attract new faces to get behind the wheel.

“We are certainly still looking for a lot of drivers to help us when we return to school,” Ellis said.

A job fair was held Tuesday for those with interest in a position.

Meanwhile, some of the 40 buses are already on the road with the remaining expected soon after drivers are trained on them.

“Most drivers, they’re just ready to get back to work and get back to normal,” Ellis said.

Ellis also said the plan is to replace the bus fleet with new buses equipped with this technology.

On average, the school system is able to replace 40 of its buses each year; updating the entire fleet could take a little more than 10 years.

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