SEPTA supplied a limited number of surgical masks to transit riders Wednesday to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
The supply may be just about gone, said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, but about 20,000 have been made available on buses, Market-Frankford and Broad Street Line trains, as well as at the 69th Street, 15th Street, Suburban, and Jefferson Stations.
“What we’re really trying to do is hammer home the idea that people should be wearing something,” Busch said. “... Hopefully, raising awareness that people should be doing it both for their health and for that of those around them.”
The masks are not part of a permanent rollout but a mitigation effort SEPTA could make from its own supply. CBS Philly first reported that SEPTA provided surgical masks to customers Wednesday.
The transportation authority has made masks and other protective equipment available to its employees, including more than 61,000 surgical masks, more than 8,700 neck gators purchased at cost from Dick’s Sporting Goods, and more than 1,500 bandannas donated by Walmart.
SEPTA saw backlash last week when a video of a man dragged off a SEPTA bus for allegedly not wearing a face mask circulated. The authority then reversed its short-lived policy that required a facial covering while riding public transportation. NJ Transit riders are now required to wear face coverings, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Saturday.
Transport Workers Union Local 234, representing thousands of SEPTA workers, has been advocating for safe and sanitary working conditions. Three employees have died from the coronavirus: Phillip Williams, Ted Nixon, and Michael Holt.
SEPTA has seen 161 confirmed employee cases of coronavirus, while absenteeism related to COVID-19 has reached nearly 15% of its workforce.
SEPTA has implemented rear-door boarding on buses and trolleys and imposed rider limits as a social distancing measure, and last week slashed its service. The “lifeline” schedule closed stations, shrank available bus routes, and suspended some Regional Rail lines.
More than $600 million in federal coronavirus relief aid has been carved out for the transportation authority as it faces plummeting ridership and revenue.