TTC, GO Transit step up cleaning, disinfecting of vehicles amid COVID-19 concern
Transit agencies say sanitation efforts being done 'out of an abundance of caution'
The TTC and GO Transit have stepped up cleaning and disinfecting of buses, streetcars, subway cars and trains "out of an abundance of caution" amid a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Greater Toronto Area.
Both transit organizations are wiping down "high contact areas" with heavy duty products daily. The TTC, meanwhile, has a hired a contractor to spray its buses overnight when they go out of service.
The TTC says it is using ES65H, a hospital-grade disinfectant, on its buses, while GO Transit says it is using Aegis Microbe Shield, an antimicrobial surface treatment, on its buses and trains. The Microbe Shield claims it makes surfaces inhospitable for germs.
Stuart Green, spokesperson for the TTC, said the transit agency increased its cleaning in late January when it first became aware of the novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19.
TTC doing 'daily wipe-downs'
TTC CEO Rick Leary requested "additional measures" to keep vehicles clean and make riders feel more secure. Previously, TTC vehicles were wiped down once a month.
"What we are doing now is we're doing these daily wipe-downs," Green said on Tuesday. "All those areas where there is high contact, all the grab poles, the stanchions, the straps, all of that, they are getting a daily wipe-down at the end of service, and that's on all of our vehicles, and additionally, at the end of line."
Green said the TTC, which transports 1.7 million people daily, plans to order Aegis Microbe Shield, but it has to source and procure the product first. It hopes to have the product in hand within two weeks and to use it when it wipes down high contact areas, he said.
"We'll keep an eye on it to see how long it lasts and how effective it is, in addition to the daily wipe-downs."
Green said the TTC is also sanitizing hand rails and elevator buttons in its stations and "touch points" in public washrooms.
Vince DiPasquale, director of transit operations for TBM Service Group Inc., the company under contract to the TTC to clean, service and disinfect its buses, said disinfecting buses began on Jan. 26. Workers wear masks when they disinfect buses as a precaution.
"Our process basically is straightforward. We do all the cleaning part and servicing first. Once the bus is completely clean, then what we do is we use an electrostatic sprayer mister that mists a hospital-grade disinfectant. It basically disinfects all the touch surfaces," he told reporters.
"The product is safe. Technically, they don't need masks, but we do have them for their protection anyway until it dries. It usually takes up to five to 10 minutes to dry max. After that, it's safe ... We do this nightly."
Metrolinx sets up coronavirus response team
As for GO Transit, Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, said the provincial transit agency set up a specialized team to respond to the novel coronavirus.
"It's always important, we learned that through SARS, to be a step ahead, of any virus circulating," Aikins said.
Aikins said Metrolinx conducted a pilot project using a "long acting" antimicrobial agent on 12 coaches of a GO train, then on Saturday morning, it decided to use it on its buses and trains. She said the product is not toxic and can provide an extra layer of protection.
Metrolinx will apply the product on all of its buses and trains over the next two weeks, she said.
The agency will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the product. It has also begun to distribute hand sanitizer at all of its stations, she said.
"I think it it's incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can and to go over and above what's needed in order to ensure that we keep our workforce healthy as well as our customers healthy," Aikins said.
An official at Toronto Public Health, meanwhile, said all of this cleaning and disinfecting is a good thing.
Disinfect surfaces, Toronto Public Health recommends
"Toronto Public Health recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces in general," Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health in Toronto, said in an emailed statement.
"While, the COVID-19 virus does not likely live on surfaces for longer than a few hours, the best intervention to prevent the transmission of this virus in public places and from public surfaces is frequent handwashing, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer."
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, infectious disease expert at Trillium Health Partners, said it's still unknown if the disinfectants being used by the transit agencies will work to combat COVID-19 because there are still so many unknowns about the virus.
"When it comes to the coronavirus, we don't exactly know how it acts yet. We do know the primary way that it's transmitted to others is through droplets, when you cough, when you sneeze. How it works in terms of touching other surfaces is not entirely clear."
Chakrabarti said the most important thing is to remember to wash hands frequently.