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U.S. commuters uneasy as Delta variant threatens return to workplaces

Stock MarketsJul 30, 2021 05:06PM ET
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5/5 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People wearing face coverings due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic ride the subway in New York City, U.S., July 27, 2021. REUTERS/David 'Dee' Delgado/File Photo 2/5

By Maria Caspani, Rich McKay, Brendan O'Brien and Tim Reid

NEW YORK/ATLANTA (Reuters) - The fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus is worrying some U.S. commuters who are already back on crowded buses and subway cars as corporate America attempts a greater return to the workplace after more than a year of pandemic disruption.

For New York City resident Bernice Donkor, whose subway commute takes more than one hour each way, it is already hard to snag a seat.

"I've been very worried," said the 28-year-old city worker. "I try to protect myself -- hand sanitizing, washing my hands the minute we get to the office and, of course, at home."

In Atlanta, 69-year-old Scott Monty wore a blue face mask as he waited for the bus earlier this week. He was headed to an office that had recently reopened.

"I have hypertension, and I am old, so I need to be careful. So I say a prayer to the Lord," said the semi-retired accountant. "I have a mask and I have God."

For a few months earlier this year, the pandemic ebbed as vaccines became widely available and states loosened most restrictions, allowing some aspects of daily life to resume.

Infections declined, COVID-19 hospital wards emptied, and some businesses began asking remote employees to head back to the office after working from home for more than a year.

With the highly-contagious variant now spurring a rise in U.S. coronavirus cases, a rethink is underway.

The White House announced Thursday that people working for the federal government, the largest employer in the United States, will have to show proof of vaccination or wear masks, practice social distancing and get regular tests.

Tech giants like Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)'s Google said this week that all their U.S. employees must get vaccinated to step into offices. But Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)'s LinkedIn is now allowing most employees to work fully remote.

In schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended that all students and staff wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

PANDEMIC PLUNGE

Public transport ridership had plummeted across U.S. cities during the pandemic.

New York subway ridership remains down about 50% during the weekdays, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the largest transit system in the country.

The San Francisco-Bay area's BART system had an average of 47,000 weekday riders during the first quarter of 2021, about one-ninth of ridership before the pandemic. But BART ridership has started to rebound - it was more than 88,000 Wednesday, up from about 70,000 two months ago.

COVID-19 transmission on public transit is difficult to determine given the mitigation measures such as masking and social distancing put into place early in the pandemic, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

Mass transit systems located in areas with high vaccination rates are best positioned to avoid outbreaks, he added, but "it's inevitable that there's going to be spread and transmission on those cars between unvaccinated individuals."

Many subway and bus riders turned to cars and bikes during the pandemic.

By October last year, the average daily number of Citi Bike rides taken by New Yorkers rebounded from pandemic lows recorded in April 2020 to levels higher than for the same month in 2019, according to New York City's bike-share program https://www.citibikenyc.com/system-data/operating-reports.

Sebastian Tordilla, 17, said he can't wait to get his driver's license so he can get off Los Angeles buses.

"It’s become very crowded in there, lots of people don't wear masks, there's this new variant, it's very claustrophobic," said the student and part-time restaurant worker.

Other commuters, such as Atlanta chef Chris Rabideau, are less concerned.

Rabideau, who is fully vaccinated, was reading a dog-eared paperback on a blistering afternoon as he sat on bus bench, awaiting the No. 6 to take him to work.

"No, COVID and Delta and whatever's next doesn't bother me. I'm just living my life," said a mask-less Rabideau, 46. "If it comes to it, I'll wear masks again, but right now I'm cool."

U.S. commuters uneasy as Delta variant threatens return to workplaces
 

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Comments (2)
Catherine Varns
Catherine Varns Jul 30, 2021 8:12PM ET
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Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Looks like the White House sent out a memo to all their news organizations to go back into COVID hysterics and theatrics as if we are back in March of last year, and that we need to redo everything that did not work over the past year and a half. Nothing that they are saying makes any logical sense from a public health or legal perspective. Since COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent you from getting/spreading the virus, how do these mandates make sense to anybody? Why should there only be mandatory testing for unvaccinated people if vaccinated people are also spreading the virus? Even within the White House, there was a spreads of the virus from vaccinated people due to the Texas Democrats and Nancy Pelosi's office just in the past couple of weeks. (cont. below)
Catherine Varns
Catherine Varns Jul 30, 2021 8:12PM ET
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Every other vaccine that is mandated, such as in public schools for children, is because it is the type of vaccine that prevents people from spreading the virus (i.e. once vaccinated, you do not spread the virus even if you are exposed to it). COVID-19 vaccines are not that type of vaccine, they are simply for symptomatic relief. Further, the COVID-19 vaccines are not FDA-approved and they have given vaccine manufactureres legal immunity. I can see why many people are already contacting lawyers regarding these mandates, doubt they are legal. There is no precedence of this for this type of vaccine. There are a massive number of adverse events and deaths already reported in the vaccine adverse event reporting system related to COVID-19 vaccines, more than every other vaccine in the system combined.
Alan Rice
Alan Rice Jul 30, 2021 8:12PM ET
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It's important to remember that Minnie was not only a cheerful friend, but a loving rodent !! AND , IF you wait for Communists and Fascists to have tea together, you MIGHT expire waiting (but hopefully not :)).
John Avenetti
John Avenetti Jul 30, 2021 5:10PM ET
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Uneasy? For a 99.8% survival rate?? It's the media. That's whom they should be scared of.
 
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