Exclusive: LIRR union sounds alarm over uncollected COVID-19 test samples

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Friday, December 31, 2021
Exclusive: LIRR union sounds alarm over uncollected COVID test samples
NJ Burkett has the Eyewitness News exclusive.

COLD SPRING HARBOR, Long Island (WABC) -- There are plenty of arguments for requiring all workers to be vaccinated, but some entities have instead required testing.

Eyewitness News found MTA boxes are brimming with tests that have yet to be analyzed.

They may work as conductors, they may drive the trains or work on the tracks. Everyone who works on the MTA's commuter rail lines must be vaccinated-or submit to weekly testing for COVID-19.

Unvaccinated workers are using 52 drop boxes throughout the system to return their nasal swabs. But Eyewitness News has learned that untold numbers of test samples are going uncollected.

We found several samples sitting in a box in Hempstead. And a box-at the Valley Stream railyard-was nearly full Thursday afternoon.

Union General Chairman, Anthony Simon, says it's outrageous.

"I've had complaints about the testing sites not being picked up," Simon said. "And I brought those concerns to the MTA and to the railroad. Do I need to check every single location as a union? I think we need to work together to make sure that vendor is doing their job."

Simon says the risk is obvious. An infected worker who doesn't know he's COVID-positive can infect his fellow workers-an infected conductor can infect his passengers.

"Our concern is that if the tests are not being picked up by the vendor, and being tested, they're working now while that test is in process, or in that box," Simon said. "It could go three weeks and if they were positive for COVID, they've now spread it to everybody."

On Thursday, riders said said it was unnerving and an unnecessary risk.

"He's positive, but no one knows it," LIRR rider Erik Williams said. "So now I'm the rider, now I'm exposed to that person. What was the point in that?"

The MTA's Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren seemed to downplay the concerns.

"Like just about every other business today," he said in a statement, "this massive testing program has had occasional hiccups with pressures on the supply chain, but it has been widely successful. When anomalies are identified, they are rapidly rectified..."

"I'm asking the MTA to address this immediately," Simon said. "We believe in vaccines, we also believe in the mandate for testing to keep everybody safe."

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