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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

NYC Subways To Shut For Nightly Cleaning, Contact Tracer Training Ramps Up

Kevin Hagen
Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker Duane Clark works to sanitize surfaces at a Brooklyn subway station in March. Gov. Cuomo announced Thursday that the city's subways will be closing every night for a deep clean beginning next week.

New York City subways will be shutting down each night for disinfecting and cleaning starting May 6, and a plan to greatly ramp up contact tracing is beginning, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at his daily coronavirus briefing that included guest appearances by the present and former New York City mayors.

Cuomo says the subways will be closed from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. each night, for a complete cleaning and disinfecting of each car on all trains. The governor says ridership has plummeted, due to the coronavirus-related shutdowns. But he says essential workers, including health care and grocery store workers, still need public transportation to get to work, and they need to be protected from further risk of infection. Public transport workers have also been coming down with the virus at a higher than average rate. 

“They’re on those trains. They deserve to be kept safe. They deserve to have a clean, safe ride to and from work, and they’re going to have it,” Cuomo said. “And we’re going to move heaven and earth to make sure that happens.”

The governor admits it’s a monumental undertaking, and predicts that “there will be bumps along the way.” In addition to the mass cleaning, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will coordinate buses and even Uber and Lyft and other for-hire care rides for each worker that needs one during those hours.

Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North cars will also be cleaned and disinfected daily, but it will not require a shutdown of those services, which run from New York City to its suburbs.  

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who joined the briefing virtually, says closing the subways will also end the growing problem of homeless people using subways as a place to sleep during the night, which increases their chances of infection. He says police officers will work with homeless advocates to encourage them to go to shelters where they can receive other services as well.  

“Because if you’re not going back and forth all night on a train you’re actually coming above ground, where outreach workers are there to help you,” de Blasio said. “Where NYPD officers trained in homeless outreach are there to support homeless people and get them to a better situation.”

Also appearing remotely at the briefing – de Blasio’s predecessor, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg is financing and organizing a vast contact tracing effort that will provide 30 tracers for every 100,000 people. Under the present rate of infections, 17,000 tracers could be needed to help isolate future outbreaks of the virus and to enable businesses and schools to reopen and remain open. Bloomberg says the training will be conducted through Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and will be rigorous.

“It will cover all the basic information of epidemics, contact tracing and privacy,” said Bloomberg, who said trainees will have to pass a test at the end of the program.

“We’re not going to put people out there who don’t know what they are doing,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg says they are also developing cell phone apps to help tracers, though Cuomo says there are privacy issues with some app designs that can sense what other cell phones have been in proximity to a user’s phone.

There are also plans to identify hotel rooms where a person infected with the virus can isolate for 14 days, if they live in a crowded house or apartment.

Bloomberg says the program, once completed, will be made publicly available to help other states and nations who want to undertake a contact tracing program.

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Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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