The NYC subway can feel like a pot of germs on a normal day, brimming with unknown fluids and warm bodies pressed close enough together to feel a stranger's breath on the back of your neck. The experienced commuter, while careful to avoid sticky surfaces or inexplicably empty subway cars, has learned to approach this sometimes harrowing daily routine with a stoic detachment.

But as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow across the city, authorities are urging New Yorkers to reevaluate their commutes with an eye toward cleanliness.

"If you see a packed train car, let it go by and wait for the next train," Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday. Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the suggestion a few hours later, urging commuters to "bike or walk to work if you can." On Monday, MTA Chairman Pat Foye was even more explicit: "If you can get around without riding the subway, do it.”

At least some city residents seemed to be heeding that advice on Monday morning. Several commuters said their rush hour rides were suddenly and visibly less crowded — something that Foye said he'd observed anecdotally as well. But others said their trips remained densely packed as ever.

For some who did ride the subway this morning, Cuomo's advice to avoid crowds — the de facto rush hour situation — left them puzzled, feeling trapped in a potentially dangerous situation with little alternative.

"I can’t afford cars every day, I can barely afford a MetroCard for a month," said Carolina Garrigo, a 26-year-old Bushwick resident. Garrigo works in an audio post-production studio, and says she can't do her job from home. "I don't like crowds, but I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I guess if I get sick, I get sick."

"I have to no other way to reach my destination," echoed another commuter, Eugene Shas, a 57-year-old Coney Island resident. "I have no options."

According Nico Marti, a 36-year-old event planner who commutes from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the F train, the warning seemed both vague and alarmist. "I think people are already anxious, and that’s only going to fuel it," he said. "It doesn't seem appropriate way to ease those fears."

The "silver lining," Marti acknowledged, was that there were plenty of seats on his train by the time it reached Broadway-Lafayette, a rarity during a 9:30 a.m weekday trip. "There’s always that initial thing when you see an empty train car come and you’re like, 'Okay why is no one in there?'" he said. "Now it just might be that no one is riding the train."

Inquiries to the MTA about ridership data were not immediately available. The operator of one J train told Gothamist that the number of rush hour passengers was "definitely" lower on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, parking garages were said to be hiking their prices to meet the new demand, and some cyclists reported major runs on Citi Bike. "No docks available in downtown Manhattan — about 30 people just left their bikes with an overwhelmed valet," Jay Ackley, a Prospect Heights resident, wrote to Gothamist. (The fact that it was 60 degrees today may also be a factor here).

The scene in Lower Manhattan on Monday morning

Transit advocates stressed that more than 5 million people take the subway on an average day — a number that is likely to remain high, even as some New Yorkers switch to other modes of commuting or begin working from home.

"The governor understands that the subway is the city's lifeblood," said Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director at Riders Alliance. "Until he decides to shut everything down, the subway is the lowest common denominator. We don't have another way to move millions of people to their jobs every day."

Of those who plan to continue commuting by subway, some said the governor's warning was top of mind. At Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, Andrew Dacounto, a 50-year-old Marine Park resident, stepped onto a packed 2 train, then reconsidered.

"Not really worried, that was too full though," he said. About two minutes later another train pulled in with about half as many riders in each car, and Dacounto hopped on. "Much better," he said

Additional reporting by Stephen Nessen.