NEW YORK - Subway train operator Michael Brantley struggled to speak in a cellphone video he made last week during an emergency room visit because of COVID-19
“This here seriously has almost killed me," Brantley said.
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Brantley, who is 36 and has been a train operator for six years, says he felt miserable. He visited the ER twice and spent three nights at the hospital.
"I was having sweats, shivers, my legs were shaking, my throat was pretty much on fire," Brantley told NY1. "I was having pains from feeling like injuries that I haven't felt in years when I was younger. The corona just completely took over my body."
There are 2,269 MTA employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and 59 of them have died.
Brantley believes his years riding the rails made him vulnerable.
"Since I came to MTA I've developed numerous allergies, I've had asthma, I’ve had bronchitis attacks," he said. "This is part of things that weakened me, when it came to this corona.”
Epidemologists say transit workers like Brantley are at higher risk.
They come in contact with a large number of people including other essential workers who themselves are at high risk of contracting the virus.
They've often spent years breathing in dust or diesel fumes from subway tunnels or behind the wheel of buses in traffic.
"That puts them at an increased risk for COVID disease," said Dr. Steven Markowitz, a professor at Queens College and an epidemiologist who specializes in occupational health.
Markowitz says the MTA should have given workers masks when the outbreak began.
Back then, the Centers for Disease Control did not call for healthy people to wear them.
"They were not coming out with recommendations for the whole variety of workers who are at increased risk," Markowitz said. "In that sense masks should have been used earlier, I think."
The MTA says it was just following CDC guidelines at first, but then decided to hand out masks.
Since then, the CDC has called for everyone to wear face coverings.
The MTA has handed out half a million masks, including 300,000 of the protective N95 masks. But workers must make those N95s last a week.
"It's not enough," said Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of NYC Transit. "I want people to have a new N95 mask for every single shift that they work. I don't want them to have to disinfect and reuse these masks."
Brantley is recovering. He said he wanted to tell his story so that all New Yorkers take coronavirus seriously and his colleagues are fully protected.
"Corona is very powerful," he said. "But you know, New Yorkers are tough."