NEW YORK - MTA train conductor William Mora says his experience fighting coronavirus started on March 29, the night he came down with a 101-degree fever.
He would later test positive for COVID-19, one of almost four thousand employees to contract it.
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It took him out of work for a month.
Now, he's one of 9,216 workers back on the job after contracting it or being quarantined.
It was a choice not made easily, particularly under the weight of the death toll among transit workers at the MTA, which stands at 126 as of late last week.
Mora's colleagues would send him picture of soiled train cars and a transit system that turned onto homeless shelters.
“When I was out, I was seeing pictures of how the subways were looking and I said, 'I don’t wanna come back to that,'" Mora said.
Life on the job has changed since the day he left.
The MTA is now shuttering the subway overnight to better clean cars and stations, checking workers’ temperatures, providing hand sanitizer, and handing out personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves.
"I feel safer because the MTA is actually cleaning the trains and issuing us PPEs, but the fear is still there because the virus hasn’t gone anywhere," Mora said. "Every minute that I’m on the train, that I’m working, I’m thinking of the virus."
While infections are down and fewer workers in quarantine, union officials wish the MTA had not discouraged workers from wearing masks early in the pandemic and distributed masks sooner.
MTA officials said they were relying on federal guidance and had acted faster than other transit agencies.
MTA employees can get two weeks paid time off if they contract COVID-19 or are in quarantine.
A federal program, as of April 1, offers an additional paid two weeks off, though some workers are unaware of it, or find it burdensome to apply.
So some workers are burning through paid vacation and sick time to stay home.
"We're telling the Transit Authority, that's not right, that's not fair," said Michael Carrube, president of the Subway Surface Supervisors Association. "They should not have to use their personal accrued time because some of our members don’t have sick time.”
For Jalmon Barksdale, a driver out of the West Farms bus depot in the Bronx, mounting bills pressured him back behind the wheel once he tested negative and was symptom free for 72 hours.
“We were still nervous and scared," Barksdale said.
Though there are concerns of a second wave, workers and riders are taking more precautions while traveling.
As of Friday, there were more than 1,200 workers out on quarantine, fewer than at any point since the pandemic.