Metro’s top executive on Monday warned employees that the transit system might start mandatory coronavirus testing if the agency’s vaccination rate doesn’t climb to at least 70 percent.
Metro does not require employees to be vaccinated but mandates that employees provide proof of immunization when they receive the shots.
Wiedefeld said the delta variant of the virus is causing “great uneasiness about pandemic recovery” and that Metro needed to take steps to protect transit system employees and users.
“Recognizing that vaccination is the best protection available for our workforce and customers, I am concerned that only about 40 percent of our workforce has entered their vaccination status into [Metro’s] employee online portal,” he wrote. “Once we have a better understanding of the vaccine rates of our own workforce, we will determine next steps.”
Those steps, he said, could include a “regiment of mandatory testing” for unvaccinated employees or those who don’t upload their records if Metro falls short of a 70 percent vaccination rate. The testing is being recommended by Metro’s chief medical and safety officers, Wiedefeld said.
“This means that to work, employees for whom we have no proof of vaccinations would be required to take periodic Covid tests to protect themselves, their families, co-workers, and customers,” he wrote. “While I hope that won’t be necessary, given the presence of the Delta variant in parts of our region and the surge of covid cases the region is experiencing, we are preparing to step up testing processes and procedures if needed.”
As of Monday, 64 percent of District residents have received at least one shot and 55 percent have been fully vaccinated. In Maryland, 65 percent of residents have received at least one shot; in Virginia that number is 62 percent.
While Metro’s front-line workers, including bus and train operators, have been working throughout the pandemic, the transit agency’s administrative employees have worked from home. Metro plans to call them back to the office with flexibility to continue teleworking on Sept. 7, Wiedefeld said.
He said a decision on mandatory virus testing for unvaccinated employees would be made after he had more complete data on the vaccination status of Metro’s 12,000 workers.
The agency’s workforce has recorded more than 1,500 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. Six employees have died.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued an order requiring mandatory weekly coronavirus testing starting Labor Day for unvaccinated Metropolitan Transit Authority workers.
The Federal Transit Administration has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce brochures and webinars this summer to help transit agencies increase vaccine confidence among their workforces.