transit

NYC Subway and Bus Workers Demand Coronavirus Testing for Suspected Cases

An MTA worker wears a surgical mask on the Fulton Street A and C platform.
An MTA worker wears a surgical mask on the Fulton Street A and C platform. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The union for the subway and bus workers keeping the transit system moving during the coronavirus crisis is pushing the MTA to line up testing for employees.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 on Tuesday said the MTA needs to arrange testing for any worker who has been identified by a doctor as “presumptively positive” — and any potentially exposed coworker that a medical expert feels should be tested.

“We are on the front lines and they want to keep us on the front lines so hospital workers, nursing home staff, first responders and others can get to their critical jobs,” said Tony Utano, president of TWU Local 100.

The union also called for setting up a toll-free phone number that New York City Transit workers with medical concerns and questions can call.

The union said that as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the MTA had not been notified of a single positive test of coronavirus among its nearly 50,000 subway and bus workers.

But some subway and bus workers have shown symptoms, the union and multiple sources told THE CITY. Those people are self-quarantined while awaiting test results from the state Health Department, the sources said.

“Working with the public obviously comes with risks, and you can’t guarantee anything, but we want to be as safe as we can,” said JP Patafio, a union vice president who represents bus drivers.

‘Absolutely Vital’

On Monday, the MTA reported that a Long Island Rail Road sheet metal worker had tested positive for the coronavirus. The worker, who the MTA said does not work on trains or “interact directly with customers,” has been quarantined.

“It’s absolutely vital that we do everything we can to identify any transit workers who are infected so they can be isolated and prevent them to every extent possible from spreading the illness,” Utano said.

The city previously mandated testing for public school staffers, city health care workers and first responders who fit the testing criteria, which includes exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

In a statement to THE CITY, MTA Chair Pat Foye praised the agency’s “brave employees who are moving New York’s medical professionals, childcare workers, first responders and essential personnel during this challenging time.”

“As testing continues to ramp up, we expect to see additional cases of employees with cases of COVID-19,” he added. “The MTA is working diligently to identify any colleagues who came in close contact with employees who are confirmed to have COVID-19, send them home to self-quarantine, provide access to testing as directed by a doctor, and immediately disinfect the workplace as per protocol.”

The MTA has kept the subway going at full service, even as ridership has plunged with the city in a coronavirus-driven slowdown. Weekday bus routes continue to operate, though routes near schools may now have less service.

The MTA has said it’s “constantly evaluating” service levels, but that trains and buses are running “for those who need us.”

“That includes our medical professionals, firefighters, law enforcement personnel, child-care workers, food-service employees and everyone else we need to keep New York safe and healthy,” Sarah Feinberg, interim New York City Transit president, said Monday.

Because of the pandemic, the MTA has increased cleaning efforts in subway stations and is disinfecting the entire subway and bus fleet every 72 hours.

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