MTA plans to deploy bleach to combat the potential spread of coronavirus

A straphanger wipes his nose as a downtown 5 train pulls into the Brooklyn Borough Hall station. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

The MTA, at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is planning to prevent the spread of coronavirus on the transit system by bombarding buses and trains with bleach.

While the transit leaders spent Monday strategizing for the bleach campaign against COVID-19, both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted that morning to sooth public apprehension about the disease developing in western states such as Washington.

“We’re going to be instituting new cleaning protocols in our schools, on public transportation, et cetera,” Cuomo said. “They will use a disinfectant, many will use bleach which is a good protocol in the flu season anyway. So if it smells like bleach when you get on the bus… it’s not bad cologne or perfume, it’s bleach.”

The MTA did not have details of the bleach assault plan as of amNewYork Metro’s print deadline Monday night. Regardless of what the final disinfectant plan will look like, it won’t be a small task, considering the 472 stations across the subway system, not mention the size of their bus fleet as well as Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

At the MTA’s Feb. 26 board meeting, Chair and CEO Pat Foye said the authority is following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control in its approach to the epidemic. 

“We’re doing a daily call here at the MTA with each of the agencies, we’ve been in contact and are looking for direction from the CDC and the New York State Department of Health,” Foye said. 

When asked what specific actions the MTA would take if worse came to worst, Foye refused to “speculate” on measures to address a sudden New York City outbreak. Nevertheless, he stressed, the organization is stocking up on masks.

“We will take appropriate action, but I’m not going to speculate on that,” Foye added.

How are other transit systems across the globe dealing with preventing the epidemic? 

In San Francisco, BART General Manager Bob Powers was chewed out by other members at a regular board meeting on Feb. 28 for having no real strategy beyond providing hand sanitizer to employees. Critics said the effort should be extended to commuters as well.

The Toronto Transit Commission got flack as well for not distributing hand sanitizer out in stations. The same was true for TTC employees who received sanitary products, but that there was not effort to distribute to straphangers, according to the Toronto Sun.

This was followed by news that Ontario had confirmed 18 cases, the Sun reported.

Both the BART and TTC, the third largest subway network in North America, have passed the blame on to organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control, claiming that they are simply following their recommendations.