TAMPA, Fla. - A spike in COVID-19 cases among sanitation workers is forcing Hillsborough County to suspend curbside recycling for some residents. The virus is causing a significant shortage in garbage truck drivers.
It is not clear how the infections started, but over the last two-and-a-half weeks Hillsborough County Solid Waste provider, Waste Connections, says employees started to get sick with COVID-19.
“Over the weekend the situation escalated, more drivers came up positive and more were quarantined, so at that point, we had to make additional changes to those routes in order to get the garbage picked up,” explained Kim Byer, Solid Waste Division Director.
At the height of the ordeal for Waste Connections workers, as many as 13% of employees were out at one time because they had to self-isolate.
home to isolate. out of work either contracted the virus or needed to isolate because they were in contact with someone who turned out to be sick.
been impacted by the virus Officials say what began as 14 workers getting tested for the virus, ballooned into nearly a third of Waste Connections’ drivers sent home to isolate.
That significant shortage of staff forced the hauler to stop curbside-recycling pick-up so twice-a-week garbage routes could continue.
“We really don’t have details about how it snowballed into so many drivers, but it did occur very quickly,” Byer said.
Solid waste contracts with three different companies for curbside pick-up, so only people living in the northeast and south portions of the county will see a temporary stop in weekly recycling collections.
“Districts two and five have about 130,000 residential units, not all have seen impacts, but the majority have,” said Byer.
Waste Connections tells FOX 13 News, everyone with symptoms or possibly exposed to the coronavirus is immediately sent home, with strict protocols for when they can return to work. Trucks and work areas are also regularly sanitized.
“We’re very blessed to not have had impacts until recently, I mean it’s been 3.5 months and garbage has been picked up regularly throughout Hillsborough County, and these guys have done a great job being out there on the front line every day,” Byer said.
Right now there is no set date for recycling collection to start back up.
To find out if your home is affected, you can search your address and see who your service provider is, visit https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/property-owners-and-renters/trash-and-recycling/find-my-trash-collector-and-collection-schedule or HCFLGov.net/trash.
Residents can either put their recyclables in the garbage, save them until collection resumes, or visit one of the county’s three drop-off Community Collection Centers. For community collection center locations, visit https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/property-owners-and-renters/trash-and-recycling/discarding-uncollected-household-trash.
A previous version of this story said one-third of employees were out at one time for self-isolation.