SEPTA, for now, not considering vaccine mandate

A SEPTA passes under the Market-Frankford Line’s Tioga Station in Harrowgate.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

SEPTA has no immediate plans to require coronavirus vaccines for its workers or implement a “vaccine or test” mandate, as some other governmental departments and private companies have in recent weeks.

The authority will be making a renewed push to convince unvaccinated employees to get a shot, including reinstituting a $100 bonus for those who roll up their sleeves, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch told Metro.

“Right now we’re still focused on educating and reminding people about the need to get vaccinated,” he said. “We could look at a mandate moving forward, if need be, but we’re not at that point right now.”

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration last week told municipal workers they must be vaccinated by Sept. 1 or they will be forced to wear both a cloth and surgical mask in enclosed spaces. Candidates for job openings won’t be considered unless they are inoculated.

In addition, the city has ordered all healthcare staff, college students and university employees to get vaccinated, barring a documented medical or religious exemption.

At the state level, Pennsylvania has told about 25,000 people working in state-run hospitals, group homes, health centers and prisons to get immunized before Sept. 7 or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

Vaccine mandates have also been issued to those employed by City Council and the City Commissioners.

School District of Philadelphia officials and teachers’ union leaders have also expressed support for requiring coronavirus shots.

The rush to mandate vaccination in the workplace comes in the midst of a spike in COVID-19 cases believed to be caused by the rise of the highly-transmissible Delta variant.

SEPTA has been among the public agencies hit hardest by the pandemic. Eight employees have died from the virus, and the authority has recorded more than 1,300 infections.

Busch said SEPTA does not know exactly how many or what percentage of its workforce is vaccinated.

About 4,600 of the authority’s 9,000-some employees have received the $100 vaccine incentive, which expired July 6. Others likely missed the deadline or got vaccinated over the past month or so, Busch said.

“Anecdotally, we’re easily into the 60-to-70% of the employee population” that’s been vaccinated, he added.

In addition to restoring the vaccine bonus, SEPTA continues to encourage staff to get the shot and has been holding meetings to answer questions, Busch said.

Unlike some other workplaces, the authority never dropped its mask mandate for employees or riders. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order requires people to mask up on public transportation.

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