COURIER L 8 IFE, MARCH 5-11, 2021
MTA staff refl ect on a year of COVID
BY MARK HALLUM
While commerce across the fi ve
boroughs came to a screeching halt
one year ago amid the outbreak of the
COVID-19 pandemic, buses and trains
continued working to provide transportation
services — forcing MTA
workers onto the dangerous front lines
at great personal risk to themselves.
As the country marks the one-year
anniversary of the outbreak, 151 transit
workers have died from COVID-19.
William Mora, a 15-year NYC
Transit conductor, said that the virus
seemed to move fast among transit
workers who suddenly fell ill in large
numbers, with many succumbing to
the strange new virus.
“In February and March, some of
us started wearing masks and face
coverings. Early on the MTA told us
we couldn’t wear the masks because
we might scare the public and it wasn’t
part of our uniform,” Mora said. “Then
on March 25, I got sick myself. I had the
virus. It was mild but I had a fever for a
few days, I quarantined and was out by
the month. … Some of my coworkers
passed away or they were sick. We had
a lot of workers who were out. between
buses and trains.”
On March 6, Transport Workers
Union Local 100 pushed back against
the MTA’s policy that kept workers
from even wearing their own surgical
masks, criticizing MTA Chief Safety
Offi cer Pat Warren’s assertion that
health experts did not recommend face
coverings for those who are not sick.
“As the largest transportation network
in North America, the MTA has
led the nation in protecting its workforce
and customers — from innovative
technology to upgrade air fi ltration
and UV light disinfection, to the
regional Mask Force to distribute PPE,
to plexiglass dividers on buses and
cashless transactions,” MTA spokesman
Aaron Donovan said. “We followed
CDC guidance on mask use before
overriding it to proactively begin
distributing masks to employees in
early March 2020. There is no higher
priority than the health and safety of
riders and employees — period.”
The union set to work distributing
masks to their members with the MTA
following suit after the deaths of over
30 workers by April.
“Our position – better safe than
sorry and we don’t give a damn about
dress codes in a medical emergency.
As we have said from the beginning,
transit workers who want to wear surgical/
dust masks for their own peace
of mind and safety have that right,”
YEAR OF COVID-19
An MTA workers scrubs the subway during
the COVID-19 outbreak.
Marc Hermann/New York City Transit
Local 100 President Tony Utano said at
The MTA pulled service back by 30
percent as fi nding people to staff train
crews became diffi cult and the riding
public stayed indoors with offi ce and
business closing. At its worst, ridership
tanked by over 90 percent.
“The only riders that we were
picking up, that were riding at the
time when everything started closing
up, were homeless. We had a real
bad homeless situation on the trains,”
The situation ultimately resolved
by the overnight shutdowns, which
started on May 6. Agency offi cials put
cleaning crews to work scrubbing stations
and trains, social workers and
NYPD offi cers displaced homeless people
from and directed them toward services.
Only at this point did the homeless
situation seem to improve, according
Primary in Mora’s mind throughout
the pandemic was protecting his
health in order to keep his family safe.
Now he’s fully vaccinated.
Wayne Lizardi, an NYC Transit
bus operator who works in the Bronx,
said the fi rst three months were a time
when no one could make “heads or
tails” of what needed to be done. Transit
especially was not prepared.
“I remember it being very eerily
slow, especially the morning rush,”
Lizardi said. “We were scared, we lost
one of our operators to COVID and a
countless number of people had got-
Continued on page 22
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