Public transit workers getting sick with novel coronavirus at high rates

Posted at 10:46 AM, May 04, 2020

Jermaine Foreman prays every day before his shift. He's a bus driver in New York City. Every day, he picks up doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and other essential workers, and he makes sure they get to where they need to be.

“We may not be saving someone’s life, per se, but we play a major part in driving those workers to work, and other essential workers to work," he said. "MTA, we are like the veins of New York City; we like the bloodline.:

And just like every essential worker, Foreman and his co-workers are risking their lives every day. According to the Metro Transit Authority’s website, 83 of MTA's transit workers have died of COVID-19.

MTA says there have been almost 3,500 workers officially diagnosed with COVID-19 out of 72,000 MTA transit workers, which is almost 5 percent of the workforce. For perspective, New York City has an infection rate of under 2 percent and the US is at .3 percent.

Drivers and other workers across the country are in the same boat.

“Our folks are out there. They are, of course, scared and they have a right to be," said Lance Longenbohn, who is the president of ATU Local 1001, the union for public transit workers in Denver, Colorado. "If you look at New York City, we’ve lost more bus operators than we have first responders and medical personnel."

Longenbohn says his workers are facing similar challenges.

The CDC recommends transit employers do the following:

  • Implement measures to physically separate or force distance greater than 6 feet between bus transit operators and passengers
  • Consider asking bus passengers to enter and exit the bus through rear entry doors
  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home

Foreman says that MTA has started following these recommendations.

“You used to be able to come in through the front and, you know, pay your fare, but now, all that has changed,” said Formean.

But he says protective equipment has been an issue.

“When this epidemic first started, we did not have the equipment," Foreman said. "I think it was more of a lack of knowledge, lack of seriousness.”

"The MTA has led the nation with the scope and scale of its COVID-19 response, distributing more than one million masks and breaking away from CDC guidance to recommend that all employees and riders wear masks," said MTA in a statement.

Despite all the challenges they face and threats to their health, workers like Foreman are still going to work every day.

“Bless us Lord Jesus. Help us to get through this epidemic safely and let you bless all families through this whole country and other countries. We just thank you and praise you forever,” said Foreman in prayer before his shift.

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