Since January 2020, Metrolinx has kept everyone updated on the actions to limit the spread of the virus including any new efforts implemented to keep everyone safe and been transparent about the number of staff who have tested positive for COVID-19. Here’s the latest update, including vaccinations.
Transportation workers who are unable to work from home – including public transit staff working in GO and UP Stations, crews operating and maintaining buses and trains, and all essential staff building and maintaining transit – will be eligible to get vaccinated beginning May 10, along with other frontline workers as part of phase 2 of the province’s vaccine rollout.
“Along with all of the dozens of safety actions already in place, vaccination is key part of our recovery,” said Martin Gallagher, Metrolinx Chief Safety Officer.
“Metrolinx is encouraging and supporting all of its staff to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible to help protect them and their loved ones against COVID-19.”
Gallagher added it is also: “Critically important that we build the confidence of our customers as they return to public transit.”
While the pandemic controls put in place over the last year have helped keep staff and customers safe, the primary goal of a vaccine program is to immunize the majority of the population so that COVID-19 can no longer spread, explained Gallagher, who has overseen the work of the pandemic Incident Command Team since January 2020.
“The sooner the majority of Ontarians including our staff are vaccinated, the sooner our lives – and public transit – can return to normal,” he said.
It is an encouraging sign, Gallagher continued, that many staff, who are already eligible for vaccination have jumped at the chance to roll up their sleeve. Staff have been sharing their vaccination stories to help encourage others.
Leadership will continue to support and educate, as well as monitor uptake of staff who are taking advantage of the expanded eligibility. Staff will also be provided three hours of paid time off to get vaccinated.
For now, and until public health officials say it’s safe to stop, it is important to continue maintaining a physical distancing, wearing a mask, practicing proper hand hygiene and limiting non-essential travel. Safety actions implemented over the past year will remain in place – including additional cleaning and disinfection, the protective barriers between customer seats on buses and trains and the superior air filtration – to help keep everyone safe.
Public health officials say it typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19. And no one will be fully protected until two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine.
“We aren’t letting down our guard yet,” said Gallagher, “and nor should anyone.”
This week, Metrolinx had six additional staff across a variety of work locations in the GTHA test positive for COVID-19.
The total number of Metrolinx staff testing positive is now 142 out of over 4,500 employees – approximately 3 per cent of the workforce. Of the total number of Metrolinx staff who tested positive, more than 90 per cent contracted the virus outside the workplace.
As the variants of concern cause an increase in cases across the province, Metrolinx has expanded safety measures such as issuing medical masks for staff and implementing rapid testing in high risk locations to ensure everyone continues to stay safe until vaccination rates are higher.
The stress after all these long difficult months is becoming increasingly evident amongst both customers and staff and the negative impact on mental health is unmistakeable.
To help as much as possible, Metrolinx has developed resources and supports for employees as they navigate through this challenging time. And it is important that everyone take care of their mental health.
Stay safe and focused on the basics from public health:
- Stay home if ill or potentially exposed to COVID-19; get tested if experiencing symptoms.
- Consider getting vaccinated. Check your eligibility
- Even if vaccinated, continue to wear a face covering (Check out the Metrolinx PPE dispensers and branded masks)
- Wash hands regularly, use hand sanitizer and keep a safe distance from others
- Download the COVID Alert App
Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager of media.