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COVID cases among WMATA employees bring changes for bus service

Beginning on Monday, weekday Metro bus service will be reduced to Saturday levels as a result of rising COVID cases among employees.

WASHINGTON — Beginning on Monday, Metro bus service will be reduced as a result of a growing number of COVID-19 cases among Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) employees.

In a statement this week, WMATA said weekday bus service will be operating on Saturday levels and be cut to 75% of its normal schedule.

Metro train service will not be impacted by the changes.

The agency added that additional bus trips will be added to some routes and that service at hospitals, grocery stores and other essential destinations will be protected.

As of Jan. 4, official WMATA data showed 2,329 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported amongst employees since the pandemic began. Of those cases, 2,157 have returned to work.

The agency noted how the stats do not include anyone out due to close contact or exposure.

In total, Metro has around 12,000 employees.

On Sunday, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 President Raymond Jackson believed the situation had grown worse among members.

He estimated that over 1,000 employees were currently out due to COVID, which led to an increased concern with workers still on the job.

"My people are scared. We don’t want to take this stuff home to our loved ones," Jackson said. "We still come to work every day and we do our jobs accordingly. When I’m out in the field and I’m talking to my members, not only can you hear the fear you see it in their face.” 

Jackson supported the decision to reduce service and said the protection of WMATA employees should be a top priority.

"I would have liked to see the authority even go to a Sunday schedule," he said. "We should have done this a while ago. The more we can take our workers out of harm's way, the better it will be for us.”

As part of the changes going into effect on Monday, WMATA will add new protocols for its employees meant to ramp up their protection against COVID. 

Bus drivers will be allowed to deny service to riders without a face mask and customer service call center operators will work remotely. 

By Jan. 31, all eligible WMATA employees will be required to enter their booster shot information into Metro’s portal as part of the fully-vaccinated requirement. Unvaccinated employees must continue to pass a COVID test every four days, up from once a week, and starting Jan. 16, employees who don't comply with Metro’s testing and vaccination policies will be placed on unpaid leave, with 30 days to comply or be fired. 

"All efforts and precautions are being taken to reduce serious illness and transmission of the omicron variant to vaccinated employees and riders," Metro said in a press release. 

On Sunday, the agency added that the timetable for a return to regular weekday service remained unknown. 

Moving forward, Jackson expected his fellow union members to adjust to the policy changes. 

"Some people are fearful of the vaccine. Then you have some people with medical conditions. Some with religious beliefs. As far as the policy, we’ll deal with it on a case by case basis," he said. "We’re doing things and trying to see what we can do to keep our workers safe.”

RELATED: Metro scales back bus service, adds COVID protocols for employees amid case surge

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