Ask An Epidemiologist: How To Stay Safe From COVID While Riding The Subway


Starting Monday, subways might be open for 22 hours a day, as a part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “phased reopening” of the nation’s largest transit system. There might be a two-hour closure 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. every evening—barely increasing the 20-hour schedule that has been carried out since Could.

The 2-hour window retains the continued efforts to wash subway vehicles and stations in a single day—geared toward decreasing floor transmission of the coronavirus regardless of a rising quantity of scientific proof displaying the first pathways of catching the germ is thru shut contact and airborne droplets. Critics have known as the cleansing efforts “hygiene theater” and discrimination towards homeless New Yorkers.

When justifying the cleansing, the MTA cites federal steering encouraging common floor cleansing in addition to an company survey displaying three in 4 riders felt safer due to the cleansing. NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg mentioned on WABC-7 Sunday morning the company cleans the system in any respect hours of the day, however “throughout these in a single day hours, when there are not any clients within the system, we’re actually environment friendly.”

Theater or not, many could also be nervous about using the practice, although some trade stories and educational research recommend the unfold of the coronavirus in addition to influenza shouldn’t be linked to subway using. Others may be fortunate sufficient to largely keep at residence. MTA’s latest figures present ridership is down total 60% to 70% in comparison with the center of February final yr. However subways can nonetheless be seen filled with important employees:

With almost a yr of this pandemic behind us, we checked in with epidemiologist Dr. Jessica Justman for updates on security practices for using the subway. A number of the ideas you’ve heard for months now. Put on a masks, wash your arms, and keep six ft aside when doable.

Justman, an affiliate professor of medication in epidemiology at Columbia Mailman Faculty of Public Well being, mentioned eye safety and double masking are actually a good suggestion, too, particularly if in case you have no alternative however to board a crowded practice.

Right here’s what else she needed to say:

What do you are feeling like is the one factor round subway using and COVID dangers that has modified essentially the most since a yr in the past?

A yr in the past, we had an inkling that this was unfold via respiratory transmission, however there was extra uncertainty about how essential floor transmission is perhaps. Now a yr later, it is abundantly clear that the respiratory droplets within the aerosols play an important function in transmission. Contamination of surfaces with the coronavirus virus actually is of minimal significance.

Lots of people are nonetheless nervous about using the subway proper now. Governor Cuomo remains to be closing the trains for a few hours in a single day for floor cleansing of vehicles and stations. So, does this coverage assist?

In enthusiastic about the subways, I’d wish to separate out the cleansing of the surfaces from the bodily expertise of being in a subway that is perhaps crowded at rush hour with lots of people. As a result of cleansing surfaces, it does not clearly scale back the unfold of SARS-CoV-2.

However folks really feel extra comfy after they’re in a clear place, and particularly if they’ve considerations or anxieties about germs. It is reassuring to see that persons are paying consideration and cleansing all of the surfaces. It simply instills confidence in order that persons are extra more likely to take the subway and I do not wish to underplay that. Feeling extra assured in what you are doing is all the time useful.

Effectively if that’s true, do folks nonetheless want to scrub their arms?

Hand washing does stay essential. When popping out of the subway, it is good to make use of hand sanitizer instantly. It helps in case you by accident rub your eyes or contact your nostril or contact your mouth. And at the least your arms might be cleaner than they’d have been proper if you got here out of a spot the place there are lots of people.

What about air flow on subways? Does that matter?

Air flow is essential. It is extra essential than cleansing all of the surfaces.

As folks begin to experience the subways extra typically, what ought to they do if there’s a crowded platform or a crowded practice automobile?

The perfect is to attend for a special practice, or attempt to stroll to the entrance or the again of the practice and get onto a automobile that is much less crowded. The times of using throughout rush hour on a totally packed subway the place everyone’s packed in like sardines—I actually do not wish to do this anytime quickly.

Eye safety is a good suggestion. Should you’re sporting one thing over your eyes, you are much less more likely to contact your eyes. It turns into a barrier.

So long as I may be on a subway automobile; preserve an inexpensive distance roughly six ft away from different folks; I am sporting a masks or double masks; and different persons are sporting masks, then it is fantastic.

Should you occur to note that someone who’s close to you is coughing or sneezing, I’d attempt to transfer away.

It is nonetheless these key ideas once more, of bodily distancing, masking, and hand washing.

This can be a matter of non-public desire‚ however how crowded is simply too crowded? If it is standing room solely or to sit down subsequent to somebody versus stand and face them? A subway may be standing room solely however nonetheless really feel comparatively spacious if it’s simply all of the seats are full.

You are completely proper. That is subjective. I believe that if the entire seats are full, that could be a very full practice. I in all probability would have second ideas about that. That is my private opinion. Having each single seat full, to me, that is a bit too crowded from my very own consolation.

Most Individuals put on masks now. However what ought to folks do if there’s somebody with out a masks close to them on a practice?

I’d strive very arduous to remain greater than six ft away from the one who’s not sporting a masks. Should you actually should take the subway to get someplace, and you do not have time to attend and wait, and all of the seats are full, that is after I can be actually targeted on double masking, sporting eye safety, and dealing actually arduous to not contact your face. Then use hand sanitizer, or wash your arms if you come out of the subway.

As a result of generally folks do not have a alternative. I acknowledge that. You do not all the time have the posh of claiming, ‘Oh, I will simply look ahead to 5 extra trains to go by.’ You may need to actually get someplace.

In different phrases, maximize your protecting measures in case you actually should be on a full subway practice.

At first, the NYPD was imposing social distancing rules, which backfired, resulting in a coverage shift. The MTA made a rule the place officers can subject $50 fines if a rider refuses to put on a masks, which led to few summonses. What’s the easiest way to verify persons are taking these precautions?

Public service bulletins which might be encouraging and saying, ‘put on a masks, to guard your self and defend others.’ Be certain it actually covers your nostril, mouth, and chin.

Making masks accessible at stations for individuals who do not have them is a superb concept if it’s possible.Present or promote masks at the least at a number of the stations, close to the Metrocard machines.

I’d not encourage the MTA to make use of attendants to ‘police’ adherence to social distancing. It will not be nicely obtained. It will not be possible to do that in a uniform method. It’ll by no means work nicely for us to take a punitive method to enforcement. I believe that might actually backfire.

The MTA says it’s doing many of those actions. The company says it has distributed 440,000 masks between July and January via its “masks pressure,” and that subway masks compliance is 97%. Beginning this month, celebrities are making a brand new set of COVID PSAs, and subway adverts posted inside practice vehicles are telling folks the right solution to put on a masks. Is it sufficient?

After all, these measures won’t be efficient except there’s sufficient area on the trains for folks to unfold out sufficient. It will be very useful if MTA had attendants to determine which trains—the precise traces, the day of week, and the time of day—are crowded with a purpose to then modify the size (variety of vehicles) and frequency of the trains.

Editor’s be aware: This interview has been edited for readability and brevity.