Two more SEPTA workers diagnosed with COVID-19, transit union bulk orders hand sanitizer

Two Market-Frankford Line cars lifted for repairs at the 69th Street SEPTA repair shop. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Two Market-Frankford Line cars lifted for repairs at the 69th Street SEPTA repair shop. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Two more SEPTA workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, just a day after Philadelphia’s public transportation agency announced the first confirmed case of the contagion among its staff.

Sources told PlanPhilly that a maintenance worker at the Elmwood Depot had tested positive about a day after officials confirmed the first diagnosis.

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch confirmed Thursday afternoon that yet another employee, also a maintenance worker, had contracted the virus. That brings the agency’s COVID-19 cases to three.

“The two additional cases known as of today involve employees who work in maintenance. They work at different locations, so there is no indication that the cases are related, he said. “In both instances, we notified the immediate work contacts of both employees, and also secondary contacts to the best of our ability. There were additional cleanings of their work areas, as we did following the first confirmed case.”

The first positive case, announced Wednesday, involved an employee who works at SEPTA headquarters. None of the three individuals who tested positive work in positions that put them in contact with the public, Busch said. SEPTA employs roughly 9,500 people in all.

The news of a second and third case comes as leadership at Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents most of SEPTA’s drivers, mechanics, and other blue collar workers, say they’ve bulk ordered hand sanitizers to ensure employees don’t run short.

“Our cashiers are constantly running out of it. Our mechanics; people don’t think about it, but they’re touching these same panels and cleaning those cars,” said Joe Coccio, secretary-treasurer with Local 234, which represents 5,100 SEPTA employees. “The union took it upon itself to buy sanitizer.”

Coccio said the union spent $8,000 to bulk-order 3,200 three-ounce bottles of sanitizer from a company in Wisconsin after spending days searching for a supplier that still had available stock. The bottles will be distributed to employees through shop stewards or at the union hall. Coccio credited Union President Willie Brown with leading the effort.

He said the purchase did not stem from employees being forced to work under “hazardous conditions” –– meaning, without gloves or sanitary equipment. Instead, the union took an extra precaution, he said.

“SEPTA is having the same problems every other big company is having finding this stuff. They know there’s a shortage,” Coccio said. “We’re trying to make sure they have more than enough.”

Busch said the agency still had sanitizer available at work locations but that the agency’s procurement department was currently “working to secure additional supply.”

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