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Amid Covid surge, New York City subway forced to cut back service

<i>Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</i><br/>Commuters waiting on a subway platform in New York City on December 18
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Commuters waiting on a subway platform in New York City on December 18

By Jennifer Korn

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is responsible for managing the New York City region’s public transit, announced that there will be fewer trains running this week due to the Covid-19 surge in New York.

The schedule change for Monday to Thursday comes from a shortage of workers due to Covid-19. “By reducing scheduled service, we’re able to re-allocate train crews where they’re needed, rather than cancel individual trips,” the NYCT Subway Twitter account said in a series of tweets Sunday afternoon.

New York broke a single-day record for new Covid-19 cases on Christmas Eve, hitting 49,708 reported cases according to data from the Governor’s office.

While subway service was scaled back early in the pandemic, a full pre-pandemic schedule has been back since May 2021.

However, ridership remains far below pre-pandemic levels: The average ridership in 2019 was about 5.5 million riders a day, while the record for daily riders since the pandemic began was 3.3 million riders in October 2021.

The MTA has not specified if certain lines will be impacted or to what degree, tweeting that all riders should be prepared to “wait a little longer for your train.” The MTA also plans to implement the eased quarantine rules for essential workers released by Governor Kathy Hochul on Friday, which state that these workers can return to work five days after a positive result.

Even before December’s Covid-19 surge, a shortage of workers has plagued the MTA. As first reported by the New York Times, staffing shortages have caused thousands of bus and subway trips to be cancelled monthly and retired MTA employees to be offered temporary contracts of up to $35,000 for three months.

“By managing our workforce,  by inviting retirees to come back to work, by creating incentives for people to delay vacations during the holiday season and taking other steps, we’ve been able to continue to provide pretty solid service,” MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said Monday on 1010 Wins, a local New York City news radio station.

“This recent upsurge in our own COVID numbers [is] mimicking what’s going on in the population at large. But the main thing is that we’re getting really low or no hospitalizations, and very low hospitalization numbers among our workforce, which is proof that our vaccination system, our vaccine test system, has worked pretty well with our workforce.”

At least 80% of MTA workers are vaccinated with two doses, according to Governor Hochul, and, at this time, there is no vaccine mandate as has been announced for the health care industry. The current “vax or test” policy requires MTA workers to either have two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or submit a weekly negative test result, a policy with 97% compliance according to an MTA spokesperson.

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