An MTA honcho pleaded with cops to wear masks on public transit, amid a recent decline in riders donning federally-mandated face coverings despite an uptick in COVID-19 infections.
“We’re going to continue to work with our partners and ask our friends at MTA PD, NYPD and other enforcement agencies to please wear their masks in the system,” said New York City Transit chief customer officer Sarah Meyer at the agency’s July 19 committee meeting. “There’s nothing more important from my perspective than seeing that happen.”
MTA’s chief safety and security office Pat Warren told amNewYork Metro that the agency takes mask compliance “very seriously,” especially among its own law enforcement arm.
“When they don’t wear their mask — if they don’t wear their mask — we take that very seriously, we take the whole thing very seriously,” said Warren in an interview. “We will take the action as appropriate to continue to enforce and reinforce with our workforce but also with the public the requirement to wear masks.”
Warren declined to give specific penalties MTA Police officers face if they go mask-free inside the transit system, saying disciplinary measures varied on a case-by-case basis.
“As any infraction occurs, the situation is weighed and appropriate action is taken with regard to the employee,” he said. “There’s no one set discipline for anything or anyone.”
NYPD spokesman Sergeant Edward Riley said in a statement: “We expect our officers to comply with the requirement that masks are worn while on trains and in the Transit system. When it comes to the public, we continue to provide any rider with a mask if they need one.”
Mask compliance among subway riders has gone down by 9% in recent weeks from 95% in measurements MTA took between June 1-11 to 86% from June 28-July 9. During the same time period, the rate of people wearing a mask correctly also dropped from 83% to 71%.
Bus riders did better with only a slight decrease of 98% to 96% of mask wearing during that time and 89% to 84% of riders not wearing them correctly.
Since late June, the city has experienced an uptick in COVID-19 infection rates driven by the more contagious delta variant and especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
Warren chalked up the decrease in mask compliance to changing federal guidance, where restaurants and other indoor settings now allow vaccinated people to forego face coverings, but public transit remains of the few places where they’re still mandatory. The MTA lifted the requirement for outdoor stations and platforms.
“There’s always the issue of remembering to transition, put your mask back on when you go back inside and making sure that folks are reminded to do that,” he said.
Transit officials have adapted their mask announcements and upped their frequency in stations and on buses to reflect the changing guidance, according to MTA’s chief spokesman Tim Minton.
“We have made a serious and significant attempt to reinforce with the public what the current regulations and guidelines are because we recognize there may be some confusion on that point,” Minton said.
Since summer 2020, MTA and a group of volunteers known as the Mask Force have distributed free masks to riders on the subways and at Grand Central Terminal once a month, with another run planned for Tuesday, July 20, according to Meyer.