“We out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families,” he said on March 21, “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.”
The 50-year-old bus driver added, “This is real … For us to get through this and get over this, man, y’all need to take this s--- serious. There’s folks dying out here.”
On Thursday, the head of the Detroit bus drivers’ union announced that Hargrove had died of covid-19 on Wednesday. Glenn Tolbert, the head of the union, told the Detroit News that Hargrove started to feel ill on March 25, four days after the incident with the coughing passenger. A week later, he was dead.
While there’s no way of knowing whether Hargrove transmitted the illness from the passenger referenced in his video or if he contracted it elsewhere, the bus driver’s death and his foreboding words have rocked Detroit, one of the nation’s covid-19 hot spots.
“I don’t know how you can watch [the video] and not tear up,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) said at a Thursday news conference. “He knew his life was being put in jeopardy … by someone who didn’t take this seriously and now he’s gone.”
His death comes at a time when bus drivers in Detroit have expressed concern over whether the city and state are doing enough to protect public transportation workers from infection. On March 17, a few days before Hargrove’s plea, bus drivers shut down public transportation by calling in sick in fear of an outbreak, the Detroit Free Press reported. The city restarted the service on March 18 only after agreeing to keep the first row of seats empty, to have passengers enter and exit from the rear of the bus, and urging riders to stay 10 feet away from drivers.
But fears among drivers worried about getting infected have intensified with the news of Hargrove’s death, Tolbert told the Detroit News. He told WXYZ that some drivers have suggested a work stoppage.
“They’re obviously scared,” Tolbert, who has also tested positive for the coronavirus, said to the News. “They’re up in arms. It’s the fear of the unknown.”
In the days leading up to the incident, it was apparent that Hargrove understood the severity of the coronavirus, posting to his social media accounts about its effect on Detroit and the rest of the country. On his Facebook page, Hargrove, who was also a love DJ, posted photos of him wearing a mask inside his bus, as well as images of signs on the first row saying, “Please leave vacant.”
Then, on a Saturday afternoon, Hargrove said a passenger openly coughed five times around eight or nine riders on the bus.
“I’m steaming right now,” he said in a Facebook comment.
He’d exit the bus and hop on Facebook Live to vent in an 8½-minute video.
“I’m trying to be the professional,” Hargrove said. “They want me to be and I kept my mouth closed, but it’s at some point in time where you got to draw the line and say enough is enough. I feel violated. I feel violated for the folks that were on the bus when this happened.”
Despite his frustration with the city and its protection of public transit workers, Hargrove insisted that his anger could only be directed at the people not taking the proper precautions to help curb the spread of the virus.
“I ain’t blaming nobody — nobody. Not the city, not the mayor, not the department, not the state of Michigan, not the government, nobody, not the president,” Hargrove said. “It’s her fault. It’s people like her who don’t take [the coronavirus] for real while this still exists and is still spreading.”
On March 23, two days after the incident, he wrote about how he was self-quarantined for two weeks due to exposure to covid-19. He fell ill shortly afterward.
Duggan announced on Thursday that the city is the first in the nation to test first responders, bus drivers and health-care workers with a new rapid testing kit that gets results in 15 minutes or less, The Washington Post reported.
The mayor, however, still had his mind on Hargrove. At one point, Duggan said “everybody in America” should watch the bus driver’s video.
“It’s something I’m going to think about for a long time,” Duggan said.
Toward the end of the video, Hargrove returned to the bus and said it was time to get back to work. He was concerned, but still had time to mix in some smiles and laughs for friends chatting with him during the live video. He pleaded to his friends to cover up their face and wear gloves if they had to go out.
“If you see somebody coughing and they don’t cover up, bust them in the back of their head,” he said with a hopeful grin. “I’m out of here, y’all. I love, y’all.”