British Columbia

How transit users can stay healthy during the coronavirus outbreak

Many transit riders across B.C. are taking precautions to avoid coronavirus while on buses and trains as operators step up cleaning and disinfection.

Officials say they are diligently cleaning buses and trains to keep people safe

Ummun Nasser prepares to board a bus in Metro Vancouver on March 12, 2020 by wearing gloves and covering her face with her scarf. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Many transit riders across B.C. are taking precautions to avoid coronavirus while on buses and trains as operators step up cleaning and disinfection.

In Metro Vancouver, Ummun Nasser says she uses public transit each day to go to work and run errands like picking up groceries.

Since coronavirus began appearing in the region, she has started wearing gloves, covering her mouth and keeping some distance from other passengers.

She says she's not worried about being on transit during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the appearance of others either not being as calm or taking the same precautions.

"People are panicked about it but I'm not panicked," she said. "I'm trying to take the precautions."

Anjel Chen lives in Vancouver and has to rely on transit for getting around. She says she's heard people online say they are wearing gloves and masks as a precaution. 

"I wish that there was a more official announcement from the government or from health officials about taking public transit and more advice on that because it impacts everyone."

Here's what TransLink passengers are saying about coronavirus hygiene:

Transit riders in Metro Vancouver talk about keeping themselves virus free. 1:00
 

TransLink says there are around 40 million boardings of its buses, trains or SeaBuses each month in the region. It has been doing increased cleaning to reduce or limit the virus on surfaces.

Ben Murphy, a spokesperson for the authority, says it is taking advice from health officials, "making sure we are cleaning the system to a really high standard."

Stations and bus loops across the network are being cleaned at least once a day.

That includes using disinfectant to wipe down stair and escalator handrails, elevator buttons, door handles, fare gates, Compass vending machines, garbage handles, benches, seats, emergency cabinets and emergency phones.

All SkyTrain cars are cleaned overnight and receive a disinfectant wipe down of poles, seats, ceilings, handles, windows, sills, and other internal surfaces.

The entire bus and SeaBus fleet is sprayed with "a strong disinfectant each week," according to the authority.

HandyDART vehicles are being cleaned and disinfected every day and all West Coast Express cars are cleaned and disinfected each evening.

How contagious is public transit?

Currently there have been no reports of anyone with coronavirus in B.C. using public transit.

Jason Tetro, a visiting scientist at the University of Guelph who studies pathogens like the coronavirus, says public transit is the kind of place where a single person with the infection could spread it to many others.

"When you get people huddled together for some reason, then there's a good likelihood that there is going to be spread," he said.

Tetro says that the enhanced cleaning measures TransLink has implemented should help reduce the chance of any possible exposure.

He recommends people use hand sanitizer once they disembark to kill any pathogen they may have touched.

Meantime, TransLink is reiterating guidelines from the Canadian Public Health Agency.

Those include not going on transit if you are sick, washing your hands often, not touching your face and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.

With files from Jon Hernandez, Eva Uguen-Csenge, Chad Pawson

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