MTA launches voluntary COVID-19 screening initiative for frontline employees

Oct. 30, 2020
The program will screen up to 2,000 employees per week using a nasal swab and results will be available within 48 hours.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) frontline employees will be offered free COVID-19 screening under a new initiative, which is the first of its kind in the country.

Up to 2,000 frontline MTA employees will be screened per week under the initial phase of the voluntary program, which will offer COVID-19 testing at rotating field locations and medical assessment and occupational health services centers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the program with leaders of the MTA and TWU Local 100 discussing the initiative at an event held at Grand Avenue Bus Depot in Queens, which will be one of several locations MTA frontline employees can undergo the voluntary and free screening.

"Our brave frontline transit workers risked their lives to provide New Yorkers an essential service every single day during this pandemic, and we must support them just as they have supported us," said Gov. Cuomo. "This new voluntary screening program leverages New York's nation-leading COVID testing program to help keep our frontline workers safe during this unprecedented pandemic."

The new testing program begins with the initial phase targeting frontline employees through a three-pronged approach:

Field Sites: On-site testing will be provided on a rotating schedule at field locations, including bus depots and subway and railroad train yards, determined by MTA Occupational Health Services based on hot spot and cluster zone designations made by New York State.

Medical Assessment Centers (MACs) and Occupational Health Services (OHS) Facilities: Voluntary testing will also be offered to all employees scheduled to visit a MAC or OHS facility.

Existing Partnership with Northwell Health: Additionally, free diagnostic testing remains available to MTA workers at Northwell Health-GoHealth urgent care centers throughout the New York metropolitan region.

"The MTA continues to lead the nation in worker safety and the new COVID-19 screening program is just the latest example of this steadfast commitment to employee safety during this unprecedented public health emergency," said Patrick J. Foye, MTA chairman and CEO. "Our workforce has been the backbone of New York since the virus arrived. It is a first-order priority to promote a safe work environment at all our facilities."

It has been reported that MTA has lost more than 125 employees to the virus. A pilot study conducted by the NYU School of Global Public Health in coordination with the TWU Local 100 and published in October 2020 reports that nearly a quarter (24 percent) of New York City’s bus and subway workers report contracting the virus. The pilot study says 90 percent fear getting sick at work.

"I strongly urge all employees to take advantage of this critical new program as it will help us identify the virus and stop transmission in its tracks," said MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren. "We know that asymptomatic spread is a very real concern with this virus and we all need to do our part to keep each other safe at work. I want to thank the hardworking MTA employees for keeping this city moving during our most difficult times."

The MTA is partnering with BioReference Laboratories and Quest Diagnostics to perform testing. The COVID-19 Screening Program will begin at select field locations, MACs and OHS facilities and will be expanded to additional sites and scaled up in the coming weeks. Employees must register to come into a MAC or OHS site if they are not already scheduled for a visit.

Testing will be RT-PCR and will take approximately five minutes for the nasal swab to be administered. Turnaround time for results will be within 48 hours under normal circumstances and employees will receive their results in that timeframe.

"This is exactly the type of screening program we have been asking for and it's a huge step forward in terms of protecting TWU Local 100 members from a possible second wave," TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano said. "We will closely monitor its implementation but we're grateful our requests for testing and screening on such a scale have been heard."

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.