Coronavirus forces New York City subways, trains to clean up their act

MTA workers armed with disinfectant, wipes and high-pressure nozzles worked overnight to scrub down the 472 subway stations in New York City.

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By Corky Siemaszko

Every train, bus, car and station in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the nation's largest public transit system — was being disinfected Tuesday after a second person in New York tested positive for the coronavirus.

MTA workers armed with disinfectant, wipes and high-pressure nozzles worked overnight to scrub down the 472 subway stations in New York City, along with nearly 2,000 subway cars and nearly 2,000 buses, MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said.

The goal is to sanitize all of the MTA's 6,400 subway cars and 5,700 buses every three days — and every station on a nightly basis — until the virus is contained, Foye said.

"This effort started for real last night," Foye said. "We want New Yorkers to know we are doing everything possible to keep them safe."

Meanwhile, battalions of Long Island Railroad, Metro-North Rail Road and Staten Island Railway workers were dispatched to wipe down the stations and trains in those systems, Foye said.

While MTA crews clean most of the agency's train cars and buses every day, it is rare that they are given a full dousing of disinfectant.

Patrick Warren, the MTA's chief safety officer, said that the effort will continue around the clock and that the agency has "stockpiles of cleaning supplies on hand."

"I feel confident New York is handling this well," Warren said.

The massive cleanup was launched a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned New Yorkers to get used to the smell of bleach and said that as part of a concerted effort to keep the virus from spreading, all public places and conveyances will be scrubbed down.

Foye said crews are using cleaning solutions approved by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're also looking at other products that are used in other systems," he said.

Foye said it does not appear ridership on the subways has gone down since the announcement that the virus, which has infected more than 80,000 people in 37 countries and caused nearly 3,000 deaths, is now in the state.

"Every one of our lines is crowded," he said. "New Yorker are used to challenges."

Warren said that the agency is in close contact with city, state and federal health officials and that his advice to riders is the same that he gives to MTA workers.

"The best defense is good hygiene," he said. "You should go about your lives as usual."