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MBTA Worker Dies From COVID-19, Union Says

An MBTA employee has died from COVID-19, according to the Boston Carmen's Union.

The T's largest union says Andrew Wong passed away last Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19. Wong worked for the transit agency for 22 years and was an inspector at the Southampton Garage, according to the union. His death is the first reported coronavirus death among public transit workers.

In a Facebook post by the union, Wong is described as a hardworking, dependable guy who was a bit of a jokester.

"Simply put, Andy loved his job. Ask anyone who knew him and they would tell you he was an incredible guy who was an absolute asset to the MBTA. Dedicated, hardworking, dependable, honest, and down-to-earth, Andy was the kind of guy who made everybody look and feel good," the union wrote.

Transit officials previously acknowledged that an employee had died, but would not confirm that the death was related to COVID-19.

"The MBTA can confirm that sadly, a member of the T’s workforce passed away last month, and our thoughts are with this employee’s family and friends at this time," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a statement Thursday.

Boston Carmen's Union President Jim Evers referenced Wong's death in written testimony to state legislators this week. He urged lawmakers to include transit workers in a pair of bills aimed at making sure frontline workers are not required to use sick time, vacation days or personal time if they have to be hospitalized or quarantined due to the coronavirus.

Evers said transit workers are providing essential services to health care professionals during the pandemic and putting their own health at risk.

"Bus, trolley, and train operators are exposed every day to hundreds of people, often with little or no barrier between them and the passengers they are transporting." Evers wrote. "Many of these passengers are working in jobs that put them at high risk for exposure, as well. Gloves, masks, and sanitizer are not in abundant supply and some workers are going without — yet they keep coming to work and doing their jobs. This means that every cough, sneeze or even pleasant greeting exposes them to a risk of contracting COVID- 19 and there is little they can do about it."

In an video last week, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the T is working to get more protective gear for employees.

"This is a challenging time for our community and I'm grateful for the resiliency of our workforce. MBTA employees are coming to work and this is a testament to their dedication to serve our community. Thank you," Poftak said.

According to the MBTA, 53 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus — including 29 bus drivers and four train operators. Five workers have recovered, the T said.

The MBTA has 6,385 employees, including 2,683 operators of passenger vehicles.

Infections have increased among MBTA employees over the last few weeks despite the transit agency's ramped up cleaning measures. Early last month, the T began cleaning and disinfecting the entire transit system more frequently. The MBTA also implemented rear-door boarding on all buses and street-level stops on the Green Line and Mattapan Line.

And last week, the T said it has given bus and train drivers protective gear, including gloves, hand sanitizer and protective eyewear. The transit agency said it's also checking the temperature of employees before their shifts; those with a temperature over 100 are asked to leave and contact a medical provider. The T has also installed signs in more than 1,000 buses to prevent riders from sitting near drivers.

Poftak has also urged all non-essential workers to avoid using the T.
MBTA ridership has fallen drastically since the coronavirus outbreak, and the agency has reduced service systemwide.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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