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As Omicron Infects Workers, Subway Service Suffers

The subways are not the only transit service affected. Bus service in the city, a vital link in many neighborhoods where the subway does not reach, was running at about 85 percent of normal levels, Mr. Cipriano said. About 3,100 of the transportation authority’s 12,000 bus operators, or roughly 26 percent, were out on unplanned absences this week.

It was unclear on Thursday morning just when subway and bus service might be fully restored. To some extent, transit worker shortages have been a hallmark of the pandemic recovery both in New York and across the nation. For months, the M.T.A.’s refrain on social media and its website has been “we’re running as much service as we can with the crews we have available.”

Still, Mr. Cipriano said there was reason to believe that the suspensions and delays caused by virus-related worker absences would soon ease, though he would not specify when. Already this week, he said, the absentee numbers showed signs they may be reversing.

Transit employees who test positive for the virus get up to two weeks of sick leave beyond their standard sick time, which is 12 days per year. In the transit authority’s guidance to employees, which mirrors recent guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it suggests that vaccinated workers who test positive for Covid-19 must isolate for at least five days and can return to work only if they have been without a fever for three days, have no runny nose and a “minimal cough.”

Unvaccinated workers who have tested positive or been exposed to the virus must isolate for 10 days before returning to work.

Transit officials have said that about 80 percent of their roughly 67,000 employees were vaccinated, and that they were unlikely to impose a stricter vaccine requirement out of concern that it might further disrupt service at a time when the system can scarcely afford it.

Still, Mr. Cipriano said that even if worker absences continued to grow, he did not foresee a situation in which round-the-clock subway and bus service would cease. Officials would most likely increase the gaps between train and buses, as they had done at various points throughout the pandemic, but stations and bus stops would continue to be served in some capacity.

“No real doomsday scenarios,” he said.

Ana Ley and Nicole Hong contributed reporting.

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