ROCKFORD — Two Rockford Mass Transit District employees have tested positive for COVID-19.


An RMTD bus driver and an administrative staff employee were confirmed to have the coronavirus disease within the last 24 hours, according to a news release issued Thursday morning.


Both employees are self-isolating at home.


The public bus system has implemented stringent cleaning procedures and other social distancing efforts since the coronavirus arrived in Winnebago County in March.


That includes drivers wearing masks and gloves, use and distribution of hand sanitizers and adjusting boarding procedures to encourage social distancing. It also waived all fares starting March 18 to minimize contact with fare boxes and encourage social distancing. Bus rides continue to be free until further notice.


"The health and safety of our staff is of utmost importance to RMTD and we will continue to do anything and everything we can to keep them safe," RMTD Executive Director Michael Stubbe said in a news release. "As the situation continues to evolve, we will continue to implement further practices to help protect all of our employees, our riders and the community."


RMTD does not have strict limits on the number of passengers a bus can carry during the pandemic, but when drivers notice they’re no longer able to maintain a safe distance between passengers they call a shuttle bus to pick up the remaining riders.


Ridership has been significantly down during the state’s stay-at-home order, said Lisa Brown, marketing and PR specialist for RMTD. She estimated a roughly 50% decline, and that’s by design.


"We’re really encouraging essential rides only," Brown said.


Winnebago County has 144 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon, including eight deaths from the disease, according to the Winnebago County Health Department.


Kevin Haas: khaas@rrstar.com; @KevinMHaas