NYU Public Health Researchers Receive a Grant to Protect Essential Workers Against COVID-19

NYU Public Health Researchers Receive a Grant to Protect Essential Workers Against COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, New York City’s public transportation kept running, where essential workers were able to keep their jobs.

NYU School of Global Public Health researchers have been awarded a roughly four million dollar grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for five years. The grant is awarded in efforts to protect New York City transit workers from COVID-19 and how programs impact health and well-being of frontline workers. Through research that will bring transit workers and other stakeholders to the table to work alongside the research team, the project aims to identify ways to reduce occupational health disparities, according to an article. The research is also looking to identify ways to improve preparedness for workers against diseases.

Throughout the pandemic, New York City’s public transportation kept running, where essential workers were able to keep their jobs. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) workers operating and maintaining the city’s subways and buses are subject to heightened risks, including exposure to COVID-19 as well as high rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Last year’s pilot study of transit workers showed around 24 percent of the 645 workers who completed the survey said they had COVID-19; the majority said they knew someone who died from it. Workers also faced physical and verbal abuse and assaults from riders over masks, leading to 71 percent of those surveyed to feel fearful for their personal safety at work.

“The pandemic thrust transit workers into the role of frontline workers, even though they lacked the training, experience, equipment, and supervision available to other frontline workers such as health professionals and emergency medical services,” said Robyn Gershon, clinical professor of epidemiology at NYU School of Global Public Health and the grant’s principal investigator. “We need to improve how we protect transit workers by providing safe working environments for them and building resilience by ensuring that they know effective ways to help protect themselves from infectious diseases in the workplace.”

Recently published in the Journal of Emergency Management, the pilot study demonstrates a need to improve emergency preparedness for frontline workers and ensure they are properly protected from diseases and hazards. The NIH grant will support a series of new surveys of new transit workers to capture shifts in the pandemic along with changes along with changes in the federal, state, local and organizational policies and practices. This specifically targets infection prevention and control programs involving masks, testing, vaccines, ventilation and training.

Researchers will analyze the impact of changes. For example, New York’s vaccine or testing mandate for transit workers on the workforce’s outcomes, including COVID-19 cases, mental health and reliance. The surveys will inform ongoing “participatory action research” teams made up of transit workers, academics, rider representatives and other key stakeholders. These teams will formulate data-driven strategies to increase the effectiveness of interventions, reduce occupational disparities in public-facing workers and further support the recovery of the pandemic.

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