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Port Authority Employees See Rapid Increase In COVID Cases, 2 Operators Died

Ryan Loew
90.5 WESA

Two operators for Port Authority of Allegheny County died from COVID-19, the agency reported on Monday. One man was 57 and the other was 34.

In a press release, Port Authority officials said the names of the two men are being withheld out of respect for the families.

“Today our hearts are broken,” said Katharine Kelleman, Port Authority’s CEO. “Their commitment to serve customers was truly emblematic of all of our frontline employees.”

The 57-year-old operator last worked out of the East Liberty garage on Nov. 25. He tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 4 and died two days later. The 34-year-old operator last worked out of the Collier garage on Nov. 24, and tested positive for coronavirus the next day. He died on Monday.

During the course of the pandemic 186 Port Authority employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly 70 % – or 127 cases – have occurred since Nov. 1, officials said.

Neither Port Authority officials nor a representative for Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union were immediately available for comment.

Laura Wiens leads advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit. She said Port Authority has been responsive and proactive in trying to protect employees during the pandemic, but public transit is public space.

“So it’s going to be reflective of what’s happening in the broader community,” she said. “If we’re not tamping down the rises in cases in Allegheny more broadly I think we should continue to expect that transit workers are putting their lives at risk.”

Since the pandemic began, the group has advocated for state and federal elected officials to show “moral leadership,” to pass legislation that would support front line workers through a suite of policies such as hazard pay.

“Those things are just not happening,” said Wiens. “The deaths of two transit operators this week was a preventable tragedy. It was a failure of political leadership.”

Cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County continue to rise at a rapid rate. Last week, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said, statewide, intensive care beds are at 85 percent capacity, and will be filled by the end of the month.

This story was updated at 4:24 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7 to include comment from Pittsburghers for Public Transit.