The MTA is the first major agency in the city to institute widespread mandatory temperature checks for workers, sending out what it calls a “temperature brigade” of medical personnel to 22 locations across its properties to test 2,000 workers a day.
If anyone has a temperature above 100.4 they’ll be sent home and “instructed to seek medical guidance and report back to the MTA,” according to the MTA, which began testing at seven sites last month and found about one out of every 1,000 workers had a fever that required them to be sent home.
“It’s a step in the right direction to control this virus, and they should look to expand it,” TWU Local 100 spokesperson Pete Donohue wrote in a statement.
Stephen Morse, infectious disease epidemiologist and Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, told Gothamist, "By time they show fever they may have had it and been transmitting it for a week or more." He added that he would "view this measure as an attempt to be practical, when there isn’t enough capacity to do real testing and the workers are likely surrounded by infected people (the passengers)."
The MTA already encourages workers to take their own temperature and stay home if it’s high, which Morse said is better, but not perfect. There’s still no way to screen people for mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
Since March 2nd, the MTA has been disinfecting all train cars and buses every 72 hours, as well as cleaning stations every 24 hours.
Still, its workforce has been one of the hardest hit, with more than 40 workers killed by the virus, and more than 1,500 testing positive. The agency has had to severely curtail train and bus service because it doesn’t have enough workers.
“One of the best ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is to ensure that people who are sick are staying home, out of the transit system and away from work,” MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren, wrote in a statement. (And even non-essential workers who feel healthy should be staying at home.)
The MTA notes that it has given out 2.5 million pairs of gloves and nearly 500,000 masks since March 1st, but also discouraged workers from wearing masks in the early days of the pandemic.
In late March the agency took new measures to protect workers, like requiring rear door boarding on most buses.
Workers have continued to share photos showing potentially dangerous conditions, however, including overcrowded break rooms, and nearly empty bottles of hand sanitizer.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye defends the agency’s efforts in a recent letter, in which he criticized the Times’ coverage of the MTA and the crisis. “The MTA has given employees: 12,500 gallons and over 50,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, 500,000 sanitizing wipes and 53,000 gallons of cleaning solution. We will continue to distribute these materials,” he wrote.