Three MBTA bus drivers have tested positive for the coronavirus, the agency said Wednesday, marking the first of the region’s transit operators to be afflicted with COVID-19.
The T did not release details about which routes the riders operated but said they all worked out of the Cabot Garage facility that serves several lines in South Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, and other parts of Boston. The agency said it could not release identifying information about the employees because of privacy laws.
In a statement the MBTA said that after the positive tests on Tuesday, it "took immediate steps to protect its workforce and riders by enacting its facility maintenance protocols to clean and disinfect all exposed work areas, vehicles, and equipment” at the Cabot facility.
The cases come just a few days after the MBTA announced it would allow riders to board buses and above-ground trolleys through the back doors, limiting interactions between riders and drivers. The agency also last week said it would disinfect buses mid-day in addition to an overnight scrub.
Steve Poftak, the T’s general manager, asked state residents to keep the employees in their thoughts.
“I continue to express my deep gratitude to the women and men of the MBTA workforce who are serving a vital purpose in combating COVID-19,” Poftak said in the statement.
The T said public health officials would alert close contacts of the drivers with instructions to self-quarantine. It was not immediately clear whether that would include other drivers.
Transit operators in several other cities have tested positive. Some of those agencies instituted rear-door boarding policies and deep-cleaned vehicles. At a transit agency in Wisconsin, meanwhile, officials reportedly said they were hopeful a sick driver did not spread the virus because its buses have a Plexiglas security screen between riders and drivers , according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Public transit continues to run in Boston and most cities around the world during the pandemic to help key workers get around, such as to hospitals. While drivers have expressed pride remaining at work, they are also sometimes worried about the virus.
“To be honest with you, I’m not going to say I’m not fearful. I’m worrisome, because you never know who’s got it,” said Robert Littles, a bus operator who drives out of the T’s Charlestown garage. “But at the end of the day I still have to get out there and do my job, so I don’t let that fear take control of me.”
He added that it would be ideal to have face masks or other protective gear, but recognized that the priority is to get those highly in-demand materials to hospital workers.
In an internal memo obtained by the Globe, the T said it would soon receive more gloves, protective eye gear, hand sanitizer, and other materials for workers “despite ongoing and shared frustrations on this nationwide challenge.” But MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the gloves and eyewear are already available to operators.
T workers have also been directed to stay at home if they are showing flu-like symptoms or if they have tested positive for the disease. The T also recommended that these employees, and those who are in self-quarantine or are caring for somebody with the disease, should use sick time, and that the agency would advance unaccrued sick time if necessary.
Employees who have had indirect contact with somebody who has tested positive are still expected to work unless they are showing symptoms or are directed to self-quarantine, according to the T memo.
Jim Evers, president of Carmen’s Union Local 589, which represents transit drivers, said in a separate statement that the T’s sick time policies “fall short of recognizing the sacrifice and dedication these employees are making."
“The Carmen’s Union has been working in coordination with the MBTA to ensure the health and safety or our members, but nothing is foolproof when interacting with the public every day,” Evers said.