WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today joined 20 Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to ensure that transit agencies can acquire personal protective equipment for their frontline workers. In a letter to Acting Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) K. Jane Williams, the Senators cited the story of Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove, who passed away from Coronavirus after he expressed his concern about the disease and telling the story about a passenger who did not cover her mouth while coughing on his bus. The Maryland Department of Transportation has also confirmed that a Baltimore bus driver has tested positive for the virus.
“In the brief time since Congress passed this historic funding, we have already seen the tragic death of frontline transit workers as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” wrote the Senators. “We believe FTA should explicitly update its guidance and proactively provide support to help transit agencies acquire PPE and provide it to their workers.”
In addition to Cardin, the letter was signed by Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Edward Markey (Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Jacky Rosen (Nev.).
The letter comes after the Senators voted to provide $25 billion to ensure transit agencies remained operational and Americans—including frontline health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
Dear Acting Administrator Williams:
As you know, Congress appropriated $25 billion in emergency funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to ensure Americans—including frontline health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—do not lose access to reliable transit during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to ensure frontline transit workers have access to personal protective equipment (PPE). We appreciate the work of you and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) staff in adhering to the very tight timeline we provided to get this immediate financial relief to transit agencies across the nation. We write to request further assistance in ensuring transit agencies receive federal support in acquiring PPE and in updating your guidance to transit agencies to ensure more robust safety protections are put in place for frontline workers.
In the brief time since Congress passed this historic funding, we have already seen the tragic death of frontline transit workers as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Jason Hargrove, a bus driver in Detroit succumbed to the virus after sharing with the world his experience of a passenger who refused to cover his mouth while coughing on the bus. In New York, more than a dozen transit worker deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, and nationally estimates are more than 25 transit workers have died as a result of COVID-19.
The Guidance FTA issued last Thursday, noted that FTA did not recommend the use of PPE at that time. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance recommending members of the public cover their face with cloth when in public. We believe FTA should explicitly update its guidance and proactively provide support to help transit agencies acquire PPE and provide it to their workers. Further, we urge FTA to work with transit agencies to ensure:
- buses, trains, streetcars, and worker facilities, including crew rooms are regularly disinfected;
- rear-door boarding to maintain a safe distance between riders and transit operators, where feasible;
- that safety precautions are taken to protect transit workers from touching the same digital screen, keyboard, or fingerprint-scanning device, e.g. for timekeeping purposes;
- transit riders are encouraged to cover their faces with makeshift protective implements such as bandanas or scarves while riding public transit and that riders observe proper social distancing; and
- brave front line workers are afforded death benefits.
Thank you for your timely attention to this.