TriMet has begun providing our operators with face coverings as an added precaution during the COVID-19 outbreak, to keep both them and riders safe. While a shortage of medical masks and personal protection equipment, or PPE, has been widely reported, TriMet has now received donated face coverings for our frontline staff that are not medical-grade. We will be giving them to our operators and other staff who interact with the public, as calls for more widespread use of non-medical masks in public places increase based on recent remarks by the U.S. Surgeon General and the White House health advisor.
TriMet had been attempting to purchase masks for weeks but due to the worldwide shortage, and supplies understandably going first to doctors and nurses helping sick patients, we saw our orders canceled or go unfilled. We now have a limited supply of donated disposable face coverings, but we have been promised a supply of washable cloth coverings from Multnomah County in the coming days. We will also pursue other homemade face coverings to keep our operators and staff supplied. Due to the initial short supply, the disposable face coverings will first go to operators based on medical conditions, age and their level of interaction with the public. This means operators on high ridership lines or on lines that serve hospitals and health care centers will get them first.
Some TriMet employees, including maintenance workers and those who must use chemicals as part of their jobs, have been using N95 respirators as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but now TriMet workers who interact with the public will get other types of face coverings for their use. The coverings do not reduce the need for employees and riders to socially distance from others, stay home if sick or if travel is not essential and follow other standard precautions such as frequent hand washing.
TriMet operators and the staff who support them are playing a vital role in our community's response to COVID-19, along with first responders, health care workers and essential employees. We'll continue to explore all possible options for minimizing risks to our staff, so we can continue to serve those who serve us.