MTA’s 24-hour coronavirus hotline keeps crashing as workers are ravaged by crisis
The MTA’s 24-hour hot line for workers with coronavirus symptoms is constantly crashing because it’s being flooded with calls — and higher-ups are bracing for a mass sickout, transit insiders told The Post.
Bus and subway employees already called out sick at three times the normal rate last week, prompting the MTA to dramatically reduce service.
While the MTA’s bus-facilities department has told its entire maintenance team to come in Monday, similar functions at other departments are at 50 percent personnel levels, per state orders, a senior source said.
“Most people think there’s just going to be a mass sickout,” the source said. “That’s what the managers are preparing for, that they’re not going to have anybody in their shop.”
Meanwhile, workers say they are reduced to cleaning their own workspaces with homemade bleach concoctions.
At least two transit workers have already died from the virus. The MTA has confirmed 157 cases, including agency Chairman Pat Foye, who tested positive Saturday morning. Hundreds more have self-quarantined due to possible COVID-19 exposure, primarily from New York City Transit.
But staffers who call in to the MTA hot line for guidance often don’t even get a chance to leave a voicemail before the line goes dark.
“Nobody has been able to get through to it,” said City Hall tower operator Malikia Burton.
The control tower that Burton works in with as many as four other people at once hasn’t been getting cleaned daily, she said. She and others have been frustrated by the lack of protective gear and cleaning supplies and the crowding in small break rooms that has resulted from running fewer trains.
The agency’s every-72-hour train-cleaning procedures are so shambolic that staffers have resorted to bringing in DIY bleach mixtures to wipe down their work spaces.
A 26-year subway veteran, who requested anonymity, told The Post he’s been cleaning his conductor’s cab with a homemade bleach brew.
“People are nervous. It’s mentally draining because you feel as though you’re by yourself,” he said. “My kids are looking at me crazy, like I’m going to come home and start glowing.”
A train operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, sent in pictures of the dryer wipes he uses to avoid directly touching his dashboard. A type-2 diabetic, the operator said some of his frightened immuno-compromised colleagues have called out sick.
“My co-worker took off of work, went back to work earlier this week, I believe for one day, and [Thursday] morning he was diagnosed.” the motorman said.
“Eventually, there won’t be anyone to operate the trains.”
More than half of bus and subway employees are over 50, according to the city comptroller’s office, putting them at higher risk.
The MTA on Friday announced plans to distribute 90,000 ounces of hand sanitizer, 190,000 wipes and disposable gloves.
It also finally agreed to distribute masks — after a call from The Post, a month of back-and-forth with labor and weeks saying they were not recommended by the CDC.
Workers will only get one single-use surgical mask per week — which one senior source described as “about as bad as putting a paper towel on your face.”
“The masks we got are like paper,” the source said. “You have to use them for a week. Moisture from your breath spreads germs.”
In an interview Sunday, MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren said the agency had been holding off distributing the face coverings until the state had enough supply for medical personnel.
Warren admitted that the hot line is a work-in-progress and said the agency has hired an outside contractor to increase capacity over the next week.
“We are building this as we go,” Warren said. “In the last weeks we’ve had a tenfold increase in the amount of calls [we’re] taking.
“But it’s still not adequate,” he said of the set-up. “It’s not even close to adequate.”
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