Massachusetts may be seeing COVID-19 numbers trending downward, but infections among MBTA employees are higher than ever.
During a meeting Monday afternoon, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said that the agency’s active numbers breached the “unfortunate high-water mark” set during the initial surge last spring, topping out at 114 this month.
“This has become a bit more normalized, but we continue to operate in the midst of a pandemic,” Poftak told the T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board, adding that, “this is a real and present danger.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, one MBTA employee has died of COVID-19.
The case numbers are compounded by additional absences caused by employees who must miss work to quarantine or wait for a COVID-19 test. Poftak said that absences have had “some impact on operations.”
Poftak noted that the MBTA’s contractor has similarly seen record-high case numbers this winter, including a spike in December among employees of Keolis, the T’s commuter rail operator, which forced the commuter rail to run on a reduced schedule.
The active case numbers come amid what Poftak described as a “slight uptick” in ridership this month, though he said it was unclear whether the change would be a sustained trend or a rebound from the dip in riders during the holidays.
According to Poftak, the agency is doing “regular auditing” to ensure MBTA employees are complying with the state and federal face covering requirements for public transit.
MBTA employees of all ages — among other frontline worker groups — will also be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine during Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination rollout. Poftak said the agency will work to schedule vaccinations for employees and encourage them to get the shots.
“We will not be requiring employees to be vaccinated, but we want to give every encouragement for every employee to get vaccinated and we will be doing our best to make sure that we are administering the vaccines in a way that is convenient for our employees,” he said.
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