CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - We begin tonight with a North Carolina tour bus company --possibly linked to an outbreak of COVID-19 and one death. This seven-day trip included hotel stays, restaurant stops, and indoor tourist attractions.
Burke Christian Tours have scaled back to about 30 people on the buses, but now sources are saying multiple people on that bus trip have gotten sick. The woman WBTV talked to says she does not want to vilify Burke Christian Tours. She just wants them to be safer so more people do not die from COVID-19 like her grandfather.
”I was shocked. Just surprised. Just completely surprised,” says Summer Johnson, who’s grandfather died from COVID-19. He died just 10 days after showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“That’s really fast,” she says. “I don’t think anybody expects it to be that fast.”
10 days before his death, Johnson’s grandfather was stepping off a Burke Christian Tours bus after a seven-day trip. She argues the company did not do enough to keep its passengers safe.
”You have this presumption of safety because you know these people you trust these people you’ve been on these tours before and that trust is completely not earned because they weren’t safe,” she says.
On its website, Burke Christian Tours says it is “very concerned with the health/safety of our employee’s and passengers” and lists numerous steps the company says it is taking, including more disinfecting, a 40% reduced capacity, and disallowing seat rotation. However, the company says it does not require masks on the bus and social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
Johnson says she has heard numerous people, including her grandfather tested positive after the trip. Owner and President Mellonee Owenby got in touch an hour ago saying “We have been in contact with each person that traveled on this tour. I cannot give you information about these customers.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the incubation period for Covid-19 ranges from 2-14 days and many people are totally asymptomatic. That means they could have been infected prior to the trip and not known it. Whether or not her grandfather caught Covid during the trip, Johnson feels Burke Tours should do more.
”You are continuing to provide this non-essential service without providing the expectation of safety,” says Johnson.
On its website, Burke says its policy changes are designed to keep its passengers and employees “as safe as possible.” Of course, with this novel Coronavirus, individuals and businesses alike are still learning what our safety expectations can reasonably be.
”I don’t blame Burke Tours for the death because my grandparents had a choice.”
However, she does not view public officials and businesses as blameless either. She believes there needs to be more education to ensure people know what they are getting into.
”I don’t think they understood the amount of risk that they were going to be placed in and I certainly place that at the feet of Burke Tours,” she explains.
WBTV asked the Lincoln County health director if he has heard of any other cases from someone who was on a Burke Tours bus. He says he has nor.