RFTA had partial success offering bonus for vaccine | AspenTimes.com

RFTA had partial success offering bonus for vaccine

With 78% of workers vaccinated, agency aims to start on-site rapid testing for COVID-19

RFTA lead mechanic Will Fabela, right, and Patricia Rosales Trigo disinfect a bus at the Aspen Maintenance Facility on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s financial incentive for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination had strong but not overwhelming success, so the agency is looking into on-site testing for the winter.

RFTA started offering a $500 bonus last February when vaccinations became available. As of Oct. 26, 290 of the 370 employees or 78% had gotten vaccinated.

RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship said management wants to implement a testing program to make sure there isn’t an outbreak among the unvaccinated employees or breakthrough cases with those who were vaccinated.

“Staff is developing a (request for proposals) for an on-site rapid COVID testing program for unvaccinated employees and vaccinated employees who are experiencing symptoms,” Blankenship wrote in a memo to RFTA’s board of directors. “Currently it is estimated that a contract will be awarded by mid-December and that the program should be implemented on or before January 1, 2022.”

President Joe Biden announced in September there would be a vaccination mandate for federal employees and contractors, and for private sector businesses with 100 or more workers. Qualified employers must require their employees to either be fully vaccinated or to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

Although RFTA isn’t subject to the federal mandate, the management wants to implement the testing as “another layer of protection for all RFTA employees,” Blankenship wrote.

Blankenship told The Aspen Times after Thursday’s directors meeting that the agency believes it is within RFTA’s authority to require testing for those who don’t provide proof of vaccination.

“We’re hopeful everybody in the workforce will view it positively,” he said. “We don’t think it’s too much to ask people to get tested.”

Frontline employees are currently asked to affirm in writing that they are experiencing no symptoms when they report to work, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.

The rapid tests will likely be once or twice per week. The cost for a 24-week testing program is estimated in excess of $100,000 but how much more will be determined by the proposals.

RFTA management has not explored why 84 of the current employees have chosen not to get vaccinated. It is likely due to a variety of reasons, Blankenship said. The agency had 157 year-round and 12 seasonal and part-time drivers on staff as of Oct. 26. Its goal is to be up to 201 drivers by winter season, which started Nov. 22.

RFTA bus drivers and bus passengers are required by federal law to wear masks. RFTA went from 50% capacity on buses to 100% of seated capacity in June.

RFTA has taken a variety of steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees and passengers. It estimated it incurred more than $2 million in direct expenses in 2020 alone.


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