The MTA and its largest union want bus riders to shield their mouths and noses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has ravaged the agency’s workforce and led to severe service reductions and dangerous crowding.
Bus riders should “cover their noses and mouths with bandanas or scarfs… if they do not have masks,” Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano said in a statement Thursday.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye echoes the sentiment in his own statement an hour later — after weeks of insisting the CDC did not recommend face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We have made the decision to disregard previous medical guidance on masks so that we can provide additional comfort and safety to our steadfast, dedicated workforce,” Foye said. “We [recommend] that the essential workers who continue to ride with us during the pandemic wear face coverings — we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to stop the spread.”
Buses and subways have been plagued by dangerous crowds in recent weeks as officials scale back service to cope with staggering numbers of workers calling out sick with coronavirus symptoms.
At least eight transit workers have died from the virus so far and hundreds more have tested positive — the vast majority of them city bus or subway employees.
The surge in sick calls forced the MTA to run skeletal service, which has led to crowds that make it impossible to maintain the six feet of social distancing recommended by health experts.
While transit officials insist packed subway cars are “sporadic” and concentrated in the Bronx, TWU Surface Division Vice President J.P. Patafio said bus crowds are widespread.
“It’s a very difficult situation, but fundamentally, the mayor and the governor need to enforce how many people are getting on the bus so there’s social distancing,” Patafio said.
“We know what our heavy lines are — at certain points of the day they’re getting hit hard. It’s a public hazard, and my members are the ones bearing that brunt.”
On Thursday, the MTA also announced plans to distribute 100,000 more masks to its workforce, on top of 75,000 it secured last week.
Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said officials must figure out a way to reduce crowding without shutting down the system.
“Healthcare workers, grocery workers, daycare workers — true frontline workers that are part of the crisis response — have to have priority,” Pearlstein said.
“Shutting [public transit] down completely means we’re shutting down our healthcare response, which is something we really can’t do.”
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