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Third metro Atlanta transit worker dies of COVID-19

Gwinnett County Transit has taken steps to protect employees from COVID-19. Employees want more - including a requirement that passengers wear masks. (FILE PHOTO BY ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Gwinnett County Transit has taken steps to protect employees from COVID-19. Employees want more - including a requirement that passengers wear masks. (FILE PHOTO BY ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A Gwinnett County bus driver has died from COVID-19 – the third known death of a metro Atlanta transit worker amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Eugene Presley, a Gwinnett County Transit bus driver since 2015, died July 1 from the disease, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union. On Friday employees rallied at the Gwinnett County Transit Center in Duluth to seek additional protections – including a requirement that passengers wear masks, a rule local transit agencies have been reluctant to adopt.

“We’re looking for ‘no masks, no ride’ for passengers,” said Mikesha Walker, a Gwinnett bus driver and union official.

Presley is at least the third local transit worker to die from COVID-19. A MARTA station maintainer died from the disease in April. A CobbLinc supervisor died that same month.

Scores of transit workers have died from the disease across the country. Metro Atlanta transit agencies have responded by providing masks, hand sanitizer, shields and other protection.

MARTA has also provided additional sick leave and $500 bonuses for workers. And agencies have blocked off seating and limited passengers on buses to protect workers and promote social distancing.

Gwinnett, for example, has limited boarding to 15 passengers on local buses and to 14 on commuter buses. And it has suspended fare collections to limit interaction between passengers and drivers.

Still, employees want Transdev – the transportation company that operates Gwinnett buses – to require passengers to wear masks.

Transit agencies say requiring masks is problematic. Some passengers may not have easy access to masks, and agencies don't want to turn away customers who can't afford them. They also want to avoid confrontations between employees and passengers who refuse to wear masks.

Transdev did not respond to requests for comment. The company has previously said it has taken numerous steps to protect employees, including an extensive campaign to encourage passengers to wear masks.