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Mountain Line employees still awaiting word on COVID vaccines

MORGANTOWN — Mountain Line CEO Dave Bruffy said the transit authority is  frustrated over the state’s decision to bump transit workers down the state’s COVID-19 vaccination priority list.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists public transit workers as “essential frontline workers,” placing them in Phase 1b, the same category as police and fire personnel, among others.

In West Virginia’s vaccination plan, transit employees are listed under 1d.

“That’s not a priority group. In my opinion, it doesn’t place the priority on mass transit that should be placed on mass transit,” Bruffy said.

The phased distribution plan was the state’s initial tact before switching primarily over to age-focused distribution.

Earlier this week, Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer said publicly that the state plans to shift some of its focus back to the phased distribution plan next week.

Bruffy said Mountain Line has spent the last month or so working with a number of parties in an attempt to get its employees vaccinated.

“The reason we started looking is because we knew that Charleston and Huntington and Martinsburg had all been vaccinated, the transit systems there, and we were trying to understand the distinction or what the issue was as to why our folks weren’t being vaccinated,” he said. 

According to information shared by Mountain Line, the transit agency lost more than 1,000 hours of service due to COVID in March 2020 alone. Seven of Mountain Line’s 63 employees have tested positive and 39 more employee tests have been administered. 

Mountain Line transports between 800 and 1,200 passengers daily. 

Bruffy said the domino effect of even a suspected contact puts the transit authority in a bind, noting as many as eight drivers have been down at once while awaiting test results.

“Our concern is for our drivers, but it’s also for the passengers we serve,” he said. “April is one thing, but it’s different when it’s 15 or 20 degrees and somebody’s standing outside on the Cassville route waiting for a bus that’s not going to come.” 

Bruffy’s frustrations are similar to those shared by MUB General Manager Mike McNulty earlier this week and members of the Monongalia County Commission on a number of occasions.

Commission President Sean Sikora previously said when the state shifted over to age-focused distribution, some county offices had received vaccines as critical government infrastructure while others had not.

“I’m all for going by age. Age is the most important. Even when you go to critical government infrastructure, it’s still by age. But I think the way we kind of shifted focus left a lot of people sitting out here wondering, ‘Am I ever going to get my vaccination?,’” Sikora said.

Bruffy said Mountain Line passengers should continually check for service status updates and changes.

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