This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Wednesday, September 9th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:

5:30 p.m.: Governor Andrew Cuomo is encouraging New Yorkers to take the train again after months of a drastic reduction in ridership due to COVID-19.

“Public transportation is safe,” Cuomo said during a Manhattan news conference on Wednesday. “These cars—commuter cars, subway cars, buses—are disinfected everyday. They have never been cleaner.”

“Silver lining to this entire debacle of COVID—we’re cleaning our public transportation system more than we ever have in history,” Cuomo said, adding he’s seen an uptick in downstate traffic post-Labor Day.

The governor expressed concern about growing car traffic in the wake of the pandemic. "We're not going to get back to normal if the new normal is everybody is driving their car into Manhattan," he said. "The traffic back up will be horrendous. It's bad for the environment. It's expensive."

Since May, the MTA has shut down subway service overnight from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to clean the platforms and train cars, criticized by some for ousting unhoused people from the subway system. Last month, the MTA ended a cab program for essential workers who need transportation overnight.

Advocacy group Transportation Alternatives warned of a “carmageddon” unless NYC invests in “a citywide network of car-free protected bus and bike lanes” as more New Yorkers opt for those modes of transport. The group’s recent analysis found bridge and tunnel crossings were approaching pre-COVID levels by June, while, in August, bus ridership was still down 35% and subway ridership down 74%.

“Try public transportation,” said Cuomo, who took the 7 train in June. “I’ve been on it. I know the condition of it. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. But please try it.”

Cuomo did not give any indication as to when overnight subway service would start up again, and his office did not immediately respond to a question about the timeline. Previously, his office said the service shutdown would last for the “duration of the pandemic.”

Riders' Alliance policy and communications director Danny Pearlstein welcomed the governor's statements—but wanted him to take it a step further.

"The governor is right to say that transit is safe and people should feel comfortable getting back on," Pearlstein said. "And he’s also proud that it looks good, that the MTA has taken the opportunity to really deeply clean the system during the pandemic. And he’s also right to say that the threat of 'carmageddon' so to speak is real."

"We need to look at the full implications of that, which is, not only will traffic be bad, but for example, particulate emissions that aggravate COVID and other respiratory illnesses will spike. Carbon emissions plus global warming will spike. There will be more deadly collisions on the street," Pearlstein said.

"It’s not just that transit is safe—it’s that driving is very unsafe," he said.

Pearlstein said Cuomo should engage Mayor Bill de Blasio on making the city's streets safer and fairer and bring back overnight service—particularly for workers waking up early to head to their jobs, for instance.

The MTA, a state-run entity, has urged NYC to add 60 miles of bus lanes to help speed up bus service. The de Blasio administration has committed to one-third of that by fall.

Across the state, the positivity rate has remained below 1% for 33 days in a row. Tuesday’s rate was .91% statewide. In NYC, the positivity rate was .7%.

The steadily low infection rate has spurred a decision to reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity come September 30th.

Three people died due to coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the state’s confirmed death toll to 25,370.

Ron Adar/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

De Blasio Says 100,000 Bus Seats Will Be Ready For First Day Of School

1:45 p.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said that 100,000 seats on New York City school buses would be ready by September 21st, the official first day of in-person learning in public schools.

Families will be notified of their bus routes starting on Wednesday and through the end of the week, the mayor said during his morning press briefing.

"Every route has now been completed and confirmed," de Blasio said. "Parents will have the information they need to get ready for September 21st."

There will be 6,000 routes for special education students, while another 2,500 routes will be for general education students.

Finalizing bus schedules had been one of the outstanding question marks looming over the impending school year. Last week, the Department of Education announced that it had signed contracts for most of the yellow school buses that typically service 150,000 school students.

The DOE usually spends $1.25 billion on transporting students annually.

De Blasio on Wednesday said the city had contracts with 60 bus companies, which will be provided personal protective equipment such as masks, face shields as well as sanitizers.

Face masks will be mandatory for all students and drivers, the mayor said. Social distancing will also be required inside school buses.

Major Vaccine Trial Halted Due To “Unexplained Illness”

A major global trial for one of the more promising coronavirus vaccine candidates has been halted after the pharmaceutical company Astrozeneca said a participant had developed a “potentially unexplained illness.”

In a statement reported late Tuesday by Stat News, a spokesperson for Astrozeneca said a “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data.” 

The British-Swedish company did not say what kind of symptoms the individual in the trial developed but said that in large trials "illnesses will happen by chance." It is not clear how long the study will be held. Astrozenca had originally projected that it could produce a vaccine before the end of the year.

The company has been holding trials of various stages for its vaccine in the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and India. In late August, it announced the commencement of a phase 3 trial in the United States that would enroll approximately 30,000 adult volunteers at 80 sites.

The New York Times later reported an unidentified source as saying that the participant was in the United Kingdom and had been discovered as having transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome affecting the spinal cord. But it is not clear if the condition was connected to the vaccine. In stage 3 drug trials, half of the participants receive a placebo.

The Times said that Astrozeneca "declined to comment on the location of the participant and did not confirm the diagnosis of transverse myelitis."

The delay was revealed on the same day that Astrozeneca and eight other pharmaceutical companies signed an unusual public pledge to put science and safety first in their race to produce a coronavirus vaccine. President Donald Trump has suggested that a vaccine could be ready before Election Day, prompting criticism that he is politicizing the effort.

In an interview on CBS on Wednesday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said that the interruption to the Astrozeneca trial was not uncommon.

"It's really one of the safety valves that you have on clinical trials such as this. So it's unfortunate that it happened. Hopefully they'll work it and be able to proceed along with the remainder of the trial," he said, adding, "But you don't know. They need to investigate it further."

Fauci said he was still projecting that a safe vaccine would be discovered before the end of the year and that vaccinations could begin in 2021.