As we wait for news of NYC’s indoor dining reopening, the NYC subway is up to over 1 million riders per day.
And, though memories of being on a packed train at rush hour may have you cringing, riding on it might be a lot safer than you think.
The New York Times recently published a report that examined other countries’ “infection clusters” after reopening and if they had ties to riding public transportation. In short: they did not.
This was true in cities from Beijing to Tokyo, from Paris to Berlin, where contact tracers did not track any “superspreader events” (when one person spreads the virus to many other people) back to public transit. And in those cities, ridership is back up to 45-65% percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Of course, the public health experts interviewed do say that since ridership is still not what it used to be before the pandemic, it could still be a hub for spread if it reaches those levels again. There are also other contributing factors, like the quality of ventilation systems on subways, the infection rate in the city overall, etc.
The lower infection rates on subways, metros and buses are likely due to the new safety measures in place: requirement of face masks, new disinfecting methods, and staggered commuting hours. In NYC, the MTA has continued with 24/7 cleaning, social distancing floor markers, increased service, and more.
In weighing risks, experts concluded that though riding the subway is riskier than walking outdoors, of course, it’s determined to be safer than indoor dining, which still has no opening date in NYC.
The spread is limited in these spaces for a few different reasons, according to the report: people are on public transit for relatively short periods of times, for one. Also, riders are mostly wearing masks for the duration of their ride (notably diners are not required to wear masks once seated at their table). Experts also said people tend not to talk much while riding, which “reduces the amount of aerosols they release.” Of course, having drinks or dinner at a bar or restaurant would probably involve talking.
The MTA has said that over 90% of riders are wearing masks, and they continue to hand them out to riders. The organization also told the Times that fresh air is recirculated through the system 18 times per hour at minimum, which they note is higher than recommended rates at restaurants, where that number is 8-12 times per hour.
featured image source: MTA