Struggle to stay away from the subway

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NEW YORK (AP) – They are passing trains that seem too crowded. If they decide to board, they look for more empty cars to board. Then, they measure their fellow travelers before choosing the safest place they can find to sit or stand for trips lasting an hour or more.

This silent calculation is done daily by people who must continue to work during the coronavirus pandemic and say that the required social distance is almost impossible to practice in the confined spaces of the New York public transportation system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people should stay within 6 feet (2 meters) of each other. But even though ridership has dropped in the city, making crowded trains and buses the exception rather than the rule, passengers are not always guaranteed even at 6 inches (15 centimeters).

“Everyone is very scared,” said Shaderra Armstead, a receptionist at a health care clinic on the subway to work, this week. “They try to keep their distance from each other, but it is impossible. “

“It totally makes me want not to get on the train,” she said. “I’m nervous every day, but I still have to go. “

Passengers on some trains in Brooklyn and Queens this week were seated or standing in cars a few feet apart, some with their faces uncovered, while keeping their distance from the homeless camped out. At the same time, there are images showing generally empty metro platforms at times when they are generally crowded.

Public transit officials say they are working more than ever to protect passengers and their own workers in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 7,000 New Yorkers in a matter of weeks, mostly in the city and its suburbs. Several suburban counties of New Jersey and Connecticut have also recorded a significant number of deaths.

The virus has also claimed the lives of 41 employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s buses and subways, as well as many commuter trains. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some, especially the elderly and people with existing health conditions, it can cause more serious illness and death.

“We want as little social density and as much social distance as possible,” MTA president Patrick Foye said on Tuesday.

Foye, who also caught the virus but is doing well, described the train overcrowding as “episodic” and said the security measures worked well enough for passengers’ complaints of overcrowding to dry up. days.

The challenges are not unique to New York. In Philadelphia, where at least three transit workers died from COVID-19, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority announced that it would switch to “lifeline” service on Thursday, closing some stations and restricting rail service and from bus to main routes.

London, Paris and South Korea have also struggled to maintain public transportation.

In London, where ridership fell 93% from the same point last year, images posted on social media showed that some trains were crowded during rush hour as fewer trains run due to illness Staff. Fourteen London transport workers died of the virus, including eight bus drivers.

Also in New York, the use of all forms of public transportation has dropped.

The number of passengers on the metro fell 92% on Monday compared to a normal weekday. Commuter train lines serving Long Island had 97% fewer passengers. On Metro-North, which serves the northern suburbs of the city, including those of Connecticut, the number of travelers decreased by 95%. On MTA buses, it is down more than 60%.

The agency cut bus service by about 25%, reducing the number of weekday trains on the Long Island Rail Road from around 740 to around 500 and on Metro-North from 713 to 424.

While the subways and buses are all much less crowded than normal, there are still times too close for comfort in the era of coronaviruses.

While waiting for a train to Manhattan on the Queens platform, Ebrahima Sumareh said that he was looking for the busiest subway car he could find before boarding.

“I’m afraid people will touch me, come closer to me,” said Sumareh, a railway quality control clerk. “I am afraid for others too. “

He is also concerned that some of his fellow travelers may not follow distance protocols in their lives, not just on the trains, he said. “New Yorkers, we don’t listen. “

To avoid overcrowded trains, the New York MTA says it has sought to maintain normal service on the most used routes. There are also police officers who direct people on the subway platforms to less crowded sections of the train. Riders are requested to cover their faces and report situations in which social distancing is not observed.

The agency posted signs on some trains stating, “Essential worker, yes, ok to run. … No – why are you even reading this? Go home. “

The MTA has sought to help protect employees by distributing 300,000 medical grade masks, 160,000 surgical masks and 2.5 million pairs of gloves to its employees since March 1, said Foye.

Queens metro driver Bhargav Munagala said on Tuesday that on his way to work as a project manager for a food packaging and delivery service, he was trying to “respect very important people” like nurses.

“Most of the people I watch now are tired,” while others are acting “crazy,” he added. “This is New York. “

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Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

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