Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees and New York staff at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing by Labor Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The two massive public authorities run New York City’s subways, buses, tunnels, bridges, commuter rails, airports, and maritime port, and will follow the same requirements Cuomo announced for other state employees last week as the more contagious Delta variant of the virus spreads throughout the Empire State.
“If you are unvaccinated, Delta variant should be a major concern to you and you should be worried about it,” said Cuomo during a Aug. 2 press conference at his Manhattan office.
Cuomo introduced the state’s first governmental vaccine mandate last week, but only for “public-facing” workers at state-run hospitals.
Nearly 70% of the MTA’s 70,000-strong workforce has received the shot, according to recently-appointed acting Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber. The agency suffered particularly badly during the health crisis, with 168 transit workers who died due to the virus.
The mass transit agency is still recovering from a worker shortage due to a pandemic hiring freeze, illnesses, and retirements that has caused fewer trains to run and straphangers facing longer waits on the platform.
But Lieber said MTA’s efforts to recruit new crew won’t be hampered by the vaccine or testing requirements.
“We’ve doubled the size of the classes we’re doing, we’re looking for new sites to do training, we’ve got a whole mass of additional trainers and supervisors back in action to do that, so we have a very aggressive program that’s not going to be impacted by this separate issue,” the transit big said.
The president of Transport Workers Union Local 100 Tony Utano, representing the majority of MTA’s workforce, voiced support for vaccines.
“We strongly believe everyone should get vaccinated. It’s the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Anyone who has concerns, should ask their doctor for advice,” said Utano in a statement. “We will continue to urge members to get the shot and will work with the MTA to ensure testing options are widely available at work sites.”
Cuomo has followed similar vaccine-or-testing mandates previously announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio for the more than 300,000 city employees and President Joe Biden for the 4 million federal workers.
If COVID numbers don’t come back down, there might be vaccine mandates — without the testing option — for nursing homes and teachers, according to the governor.
“If the numbers don’t come down I think you have to consider mandatory vaccines for nursing home workers. You know the nursing homes are the high-risk population. We learned that in a painful lesson,” Cuomo said. “Mandatory vaccination for teachers if the numbers go up. Why? Teachers are in front of a classroom. How many kids does a teacher interact with during the course of a day? Thirty, forty, a hundred, hundred and fifty? That child can get the virus and go home.”
He also urged private businesses like restaurants and bars to require their customers be vaccinated.
“You know, if I go to a bar and I want to have a drink and I want to talk to the person next to me, I want to know that that person is vaccinated. If I go to a restaurant and I’m sitting at a table and the table right next to me, I want to know that they’re vaccinated,” Cuomo said. “I believe it’s in your business interest to run a vaccine only establishment.”
The state’s chief executive stopped short of introducing a new mask mandate, saying that it is up to local governments to adopt recent guidance by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unless Albany legislators change the law.
De Blasio said at his Monday morning press briefing he strongly recommends New Yorkers wear masks indoors, even if they’re vaccinated, but did not say the city would mandate the face coverings.
All new municipal employees must now show proof of vaccination of at least one dose before they start working, the mayor announced.
The city registered a 3.05% positivity rate across a seven day average as of July 31, up from 2.43% a week before on July 24, and the Delta variant accounted for 72% of tested cases.
The CDC now recommends that even fully-vaccinated people wear masks at public indoor settings, after researchers found that the delta strain can also spread among people who got their shots.
However, the virus is much less likely to cause severe illness or death among vaccinated people.