King County Metro Transit, one of the nation’s busiest public bus agencies, will now wipe down “high touch” areas with disinfectants, in response to the Seattle-area coronavirus outbreak.
The added cleanings were to begin Tuesday night.
Sanitary wipe-downs of handrails, poles, the driver area and the stop-request pull cords are to be done daily, while buses are out of service, “for the foreseeable future,” said spokesman Jeff Switzer.
It’s still unclear how much staff time and money will be needed for the work, he said. Metro staff will be trained to use backpack sprayers with pints of disinfectant, Switzer said.
Cleanings will include a daily spraying of the driver’s windshield and work station. In the near future, transit operators will be given kits to include items like gloves, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, to be distributed by the county’s emergency management department, said Kenneth Price, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587.
The union has also asked for guarantees that bus and train drivers get enough time to clean their work areas, and be paid for additional minutes as needed, Price said by email Tuesday evening, after a conference call with Metro.
For years, some transit operators have taken measures like wearing gloves, or wiping the steering wheel between shift changes.
Plans are also being drawn to accelerate Metro’s longtime practice of deep-cleaning buses every 30 days, which includes wiping every handrail, strap and seat with foam disinfectants, to every 15 days, the union said. Interior windows are washed and floors mopped on those visits.
Cleanings will also occur on Sound Transit buses operated by Metro.
Some three-quarters of a million people per day ride with eight agencies in the central Puget Sound region, one of many public spaces where viruses might be transmitted.
People should avoid riding when they feel flu or cold symptoms, health officials say, and people should avoid touching their face and should wash their hands before and after each trip.
And even if buses are sanitized daily, new exposures can return when the next group of riders hop aboard, Switzer said.
Even the ordinary flu can linger in air droplets for hours, and a recent study of coronaviruses, for the Journal of Hospital Infection, suggests they can linger on surfaces for a few days in medical settings. The journal found that a hydrogen peroxide solution can disinfect contaminated areas.
Snohomish County-based Community Transit already sanitizes bus handrails and nonfabric seat parts weekly with Lysol, and talks were underway Tuesday about possible daily sanitizing, said spokeswoman Nashika Stanbro. Officials are determining the costs and whether cleaning contractors can squeeze in that work in addition to the usual sweeping and spill removal.
Workers at the Seattle Center Monorail wipe down surfaces daily with disinfectants, General Manager Megan Ching said.
Metro’s new plan follows a tweet by King County Executive Dow Constantine on Monday, assuring the public cleaning will increase.
Sound Transit, which contracts with four agencies to operate a regional fleet, promised additional sanitizing, but a spokesman Tuesday afternoon could not give specifics.
However, Sound Transit board member Paul Roberts, of Everett, said Tuesday stepped-up cleaning has already started, and crews will focus mainly on places where people set their hands, including at light-rail stations.
In King and Snohomish counties, 27 people had been diagnosed by Tuesday afternoon with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus officially known as SARS-CoV-2. Nine people have died.
Nationally the ATU is working to write coronavirus-related guidance for transit workers “post haste,” said Brian Sherlock, ATU safety specialist in Washington, D.C.
Some transit providers took steps earlier this week.
New York Metropolitan Transit Authority reported that it disinfected 427 subway stations, 1,905 train cars and 1,974 buses Monday night. The agency also said it hasn’t detected any loss of ridership. New York has reported two cases of COVID-19.
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) cites San Diego, which says it daily wipes 53 bus and trolley stations to disinfect ticket machines and kiosks. APTA is holding a national web conference Thursday.
Singapore is spraying airport areas and public handrails, in escalators and trolleys, as often as four times a day with ammonium chloride, the Straits Times reported.
It’s difficult to isolate public transit’s impact on the spread of epidemics.
Research in 2011 found that in a hypothetical model measuring the spread of an influenza epidemic in New York City, only 4% to 5% would occur on the subway. People would be more likely to get infected in households, schools and in other community spaces like bars and restaurants.
King County riders who see a specific hazard are encouraged to tell the transit operator first. Passengers may also call Metro customer service offices at 206-553-3000 or Sound Transit’s security office at 260-398-5268.
Metro will immediately pull buses out of service for cleaning if a passenger reports an unsanitary condition, Constantine said last weekend. For small biohazards, supervisors can react within minutes by bringing sanitizing fluids, cloths and sharps-disposal cases.
As with other public places, the onus is mainly on passengers to safeguard themselves. “It’s not rude to get up and move if you need to,” Sound Transit advises.