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Studies Show Riding Transit During Pandemic Is Pretty Safe - Streetsblog

As coronavirus cases surge nationally, many scientific studies are reassuring essential workers that it’s largely safe to take public transportation (if they use basic precautions) — and reminding Washington that it’s past time to give transit agencies the relief they need.

Despite an early panic that sent ridership plummeting and kept it low, public transportation has proved to be one of the most COVID-safe places to be outside the home. Scientists think that’s because many public transit vehicles are relatively uncrowded, well-ventilated, and usually not the site of the kind of boisterous conversations that can accelerate the spread of airborne particles — not to mention the fact that most transit agencies are requiring (and sometimes even supplying) personal protective equipment to passengers.

In fact, scientists think that most intra-urban public transit trips are too short for passengers to inhale the high concentration of aerosols necessary for virus transmission, and some epidemiologists think that shared car services, such as Uber, may be more dangerous than mass modes.

Here are some of the many studies that suggest that transit is safer than anyone guessed at the start of the pandemic — and that the next Congress should make saving mass transportation its first priority.

No COVID clusters on trains in Japan

Japan is known for packing people into its subways like sardines — but not for giving those commuters COVID-19.

Researchers at Kyoto University made headlines months ago for their preliminary study of more than 3,000 early coronavirus cases, which found that, from January through April, no super-spreader events took place on public transportation — none. The conclusions held after the study passed peer review; it was published in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases in September.

It bears repeating that Japan’s success in keeping the virus off the Metro likely has to do with the fact that commuters began wearing masks on public transportation long before the coronavirus, thanks to the tough lessons of the SARS epidemic. That’s just the latest reason not to leave your CDC-approved, three-ply mask at home.

Paris Metro passengers stayed coronavirus-free

Paris also has found no evidence that public transit contributed to any of its large COVID-19 clusters — and robust public support for the mode is probably why.

Of more than 150 super-spreader events in the French capital from May through June (defined as an occasion during which five or more people became infected after spending time in the same area) researchers found that none could be traced back to Paris’s public transportation system.

That’s likely because Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo acted quickly to issue a mask mandate and outfit the transit agency with the World Health Organization-recommended tools it needed to keep passengers and workers safe. American leaders haven’t had the federal support they need to be as proactive; perhaps that will change with the new administration.


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