The authority is screening employees’ temperatures in the fight against COVID-19. MTA photo

MTA Criticizes New York Times Report and Further Protects Staff with Temperature Testing

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has issued a letter to the New York Times in response to its story about the deaths of transportation workers. The letter, from Patrick J. Foye, MTA Chairman and CEO, reads:

“The MTA during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has been grieving over the tragic deaths of many of our colleagues. The one-sided New York Times story “41 Transit Workers Dead: Crisis Takes Staggering Toll on Subways” that ran April 8 only adds to that anguish by ignoring the facts.

“Since March 1, when the first case of COVID-19 was identified in New York, the MTA has taken aggressive action to protect the health and safety of our heroic workforce on the frontlines of this crisis.

The only ‘sluggish’ response has been on the part of the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose guidelines against widespread use of masks the MTA (a transportation organization, not a medical provider) initially followed but has since disregarded. To date, we have provided 460,000 N95 and surgical masks to all of our operating employees in addition to thousands of face shields and 2.5 million pairs of gloves. Only last week – after the MTA acted and we recommended our customers wear face coverings – did the CDC change course and recommend Americans wear masks. The WHO has still not acted.

“Additionally, here’s what the MTA, which took many of these steps before any transportation agency nationwide, has done. On March 3, the MTA implemented new disinfecting procedures – sanitizing our stations and full fleet of thousands of rolling stock daily and fully every 72 hours. On March 11, we stepped those efforts up to disinfect stations twice daily. We have implemented rear-door boarding to ensure social distancing for bus operators and eliminated cash transactions systemwide to limit person-to-person contact.

“After the state implemented the ‘NY on Pause’ order on March 20, the MTA put into place the Essential Service Plan on March 24 to preserve service for healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers – allowing flexible scheduling to maximize social distancing and limit the number of people needed to come to work. We also implemented unprecedented back office procedures to promote social distancing in and around crew rooms and bus depots.

“The MTA’s pandemic plan is a blueprint that we have followed and improved on since day one. Unfortunately, what the plan, like others nationwide, did not contemplate was that medical guidance during this specific period would be not to use certain stockpiled items for all employees. Moreover, to set the record straight on supplies provided, 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.

“The MTA’s singular focus is on protecting our heroic employees and customers. Any suggestion otherwise is baseless. We have implemented our plan and made necessary changes in real time as we deal with this unprecedented public health crisis.”

Homeland Security Today earlier reported on MTA’s initiative to provide staff with PPE ahead of national recommendations.

In addition to the measures outlined in the letter to the New York Times, MTA has also recently deployed a “Temperature Brigade” consisting of medically trained personnel to check temperatures of heroic employees at 22 strategic locations as they report to work throughout the MTA service region, helping to reduce the spread of illnesses as the organization battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” said MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren. “Our “temperature brigade” helps reduce risk for everyone, and they are among the thousands of behind-the-scenes heroes at the MTA working hard to fight this formidable pandemic. Our frontline employees are incredible, and we thank them for their courage and commitment to public service.”

The MTA Temperature Brigade is drawn from across the MTA, including NYC Transit safety and security personnel, LIRR fire marshals and Metro-North fire brigade, as well as 60 contract workers, all medically trained, deployed 24/7 to locations covering all MTA agencies. The Brigade, which is redeployed regularly based on needs, is currently at 22 critical locations.

Temperature Brigade members check all employees entering a work location using thermal scan thermometers on foreheads. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher is sent home and instructed to seek medical guidance and report back to the MTA.

The Brigade started at seven sites in March and has ramped up with more than 2,000 employees a day now being tested. The fever rate being found by the Brigade is extremely low – approximately 1 out of every 1,000 employees checked.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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