State to provide coronavirus antibody testing for all MTA employees

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Cleaners at the 96th Street Q train stop in May.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Northwell Health-GoHealth and BioReference Laboratories will be providing antibody testing to all MTA employees to contain the spread of COVID-19 as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to survey all essential workers.

The agency says their employees can go to any of the 52 Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care facilities in the region and get blood drawn to learn whether or not they have come in contact with the virus over the course of the pandemic.

“Antibody testing is a critical tool for providing important health information to our employees and helping workers safely return to work in large numbers,” MTA Chair Pat Foye said. “We are moving quickly and strategically to make sure our employees are able to get tested, and are hopeful that, in time, this will help bolster the number of healthy workers who are able to move the essential workers in the fight against this pandemic.”

According to Foye on May 14, 118 MTA employees had died from coronavirus and 8,800 transit workers had returned to work after either being exposed or recovering from the illness.

The only essential workers not allowed to get the testing for the time being are those currently experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such as temperature above 100.4 degrees, dry cough or shortness of breath. This is due to the need for at least 21 days after exposure needed for the body to create antibodies.

In late March, the MTA deployed a temperature brigade to screen employees for symptoms of the illness.

Though the MTA is now looked to as a leader for other transit agencies, there has been an adjustment period that could account for the disproportionate number of deaths within the agency.

Early on in the pandemic, MTA leaders followed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and did not provide personal protective equipment for employees. Not only did the MTA reverse course on this after the death toll mounted, but the agency increased cleaning efforts by shutting down the subway system between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. for sanitation.