24% of New York City’s bus and subway workers have contracted COVID-19, and 76% said they personally knew a coworker who died, a new NYU survey finds



A train conductor looks out from a train on the subway in the Brooklyn borough on June 22, 2020 in New York City. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images


© Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
A train conductor looks out from a train on the subway in the Brooklyn borough on June 22, 2020 in New York City. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

  • A new survey from NYU found that 24% of New York’s bus and subway workers have contracted COVID-19, a figure higher than previously estimated. 
  • The survey also found that workers dealt with widespread fears about their own safety, especially when it came to enforcing mask-wearing on buses and trains. 
  • About 131 New York transit workers have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 
  • The MTA pushed back on the survey’s findings in a statement to Business Insider, saying that the 645 workers who responded are “a fraction of the NYC Transit workforce, and captured only those who were most motivated to participate.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Nearly a quarter of New York’s bus and subway workers say they have been infected with COVID-19, a new survey by NYU published Tuesday found. That figure, which is based on self-reports, is higher than a previous estimate conducted in May, which found that about 14% of New York’s downstate transit workers tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. 

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In addition, more than 70% of transit workers said they were fearful for their safety at work. Beside concerns about their own health, workers said that they were worried that riders would attack them if they tried to enforce mask-wearing, or if they didn’t enforce mask-wearing on other riders. 

The survey illuminates the heavy toll that COVID-19 has taken on the employees that keep New York’s trains and buses running.

“The transit workers have suffered the most casualties,” said Roberto Martinez, a bus operator, in a previous Business Insider report. “Why? Because we are in contact with more people on a daily basis.”

Early in the pandemic, MTA workers said that there weren’t adequate safety protocols on trains and buses, Business Insider previously reported. Concerned about their own health, employees brought their own masks to work and cordoned off areas to try and distance themselves from passengers. Management told workers they could be disciplined for their efforts and when supplies did come, they often were insufficient, workers told Business Insider. 

There have been “significantly more” personal protective equipment, safety supplies, and sanitary protocols compared to early March, transit workers said, according to the survey. Still, the stress of COVID-19 exposure has negatively affected the mental health of employees. Over half of respondents said they felt “nervous, anxious, on-edge, and cannot control worrying,” and 15% said they felt “isolated, down, depressed or hopeless.”

Since the outbreak, about 131 MTA workers have died of COVID-19 and New York MTA has begun paying a $500,000 “COVID Death Benefit” to their families. 91% of workers surveyed said they knew a coworker who had been infected, and 76% said they personally knew a coworker who died of COVID-19.

The MTA pushed back on the study in a statement to Business Insider, saying that the 645 workers who responded to the study are “a fraction of the NYC Transit workforce, and captured only those who were most motivated to participate.” An MTA spokesperson also said that the overall COVID infection rate for MTA workers is about 7%, and that NYU’s poll numbers were inflated because they were based on self-reports, rather than antibody tests.

“We hope any future ‘study’ is based on science, data and facts as the MTA’s highest priority remains the safety of our workforce,” said MTA’s chief communications officer, Abbey Collins.

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