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Transportation agencies feeling the effects of omicron surge

Updated January 17, 2022 - 11:12 pm

The omicron-driven surge in COVID-19 cases is being felt in agencies serving the Las Vegas Valley’s transportation needs.

COVID-19 cases among Transportation Safety Administration workers at Harry Reid International Airport have sharply increased of late after the agency saw only 20 new cases between Sept. 7 and Dec. 7.

The cumulative number of COVID cases noted by the TSA jumped from 272 on Dec. 7 to 367 on Friday, representing a 35 percent spike in a little over a month. That dwarfs the 9 percent rise reported between September and early December.

TSA spokesman Robert Langston said the surge in Las Vegas mirrors what the agency is seeing in other communities it serves nationwide.

“While the agency is monitoring the situation closely for operational impacts, TSA has been fortunate thus far,” Langston said. “Checkpoint staffing may be altered at airports going forward as needed to address the seasonal decrease in passenger volume and possible changes in staffing availability. This actually helps us manage passenger throughput and keep wait times down.”

Despite the increase in cases at Reid, security checkpoint operations haven’t been impacted much, according to Becky Esquivel, Las Vegas airport TSA agent and representative for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1250.

“All checkpoints are open unlike Sky Harbor (International Airport in Phoenix),” Esquivel said via text message. “We are processing the passengers in a timely fashion. Our focus will always be to keep the traveling public and their property safe.”

The surge in cases has also wreaked havoc on airlines, as thousands of flights have been canceled nationwide since around Christmas, including hundreds of flights at Las Vegas’ airport. That continued last week with over 100 flights at Reid scrapped between Monday and Friday.

“We are seeing its impacts in varying degrees across our operations, from Clark County Department of Aviation staffing to other airport partners, such as airlines, passenger services, and food and beverage concessions,” said airport spokesman Joe Rajchel. “This means travelers could experience longer wait times and lines for services, limited options for food and beverages, and as we’ve already seen in recent weeks, the potential for flight cancellations or delays.”

Airport officials recommend travelers arrive early and be prepared.

“It also never hurts to pack a little extra patience and kindness for those who are working through these difficulties to ensure operations continue,” Rajchel said.

COVID-related issues locally aren’t limited to the airline industry as the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s public bus system has also been hit.

The transit system is seeing an increase in pandemic-related issues with dozens of drivers either ill or in quarantine daily, according to RTC Deputy CEO Francis Julien.

“This is a very fluid situation, but we are averaging between 50 to 80 drivers a day who are unable to fill their shifts,” Julien said. “As a result, there are service interruptions throughout our transit system.”

That daily number represents between 8-10 percent of drivers on a given day. The RTC is following the recently updated Centers for Disease Control And Prevention guidelines on a five-day quarantine period for those who test positive and are asymptomatic.

The RTC sent out an email to customers Friday alerting them to the driver shortages and warning that travel times could be affected.

The RTC urges riders to sign up for route-specific text and email alerts to stay up to date on any bus delays. Customers can also utilize the agency’s rideRTC app and the Transit App maps to view impacted routes.

Julien said he understands the delays can be frustrating for those who rely on the bus system. But he asked that people be courteous to drivers as they are tasked with working under less-than-optimal conditions.

“We understand that our customers’ daily lives and routines are impacted, and we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” Julien said. “We ask that riders be patient with their drivers, who are working long days and covering extra shifts on their days off — all through a pandemic — to connect our community to jobs and essential services.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com.

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