As New York City stares down the barrel of a potential pandemic with the rapid spread of COVID-19, the MTA has now taken measures to keep the city's main modes of public transportation clean. Or at least, cleaner than usual.

Earlier this week the agency announced new sanitizing protocols in response to the novel coronavirus. New York City Transit, MTA Bus, Access-A-Ride, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North have since significantly increased "the frequency and intensity of sanitizing procedures at each of its stations and on its full fleet of rolling stock," they said in a press release.

Train cars and buses are being cleaned daily, and the entire fleet is getting a deep clean every 72 hours. Meanwhile, surfaces in stations will also be getting wipe downs—turnstiles, MetroCard and ticket vending machines, slam gates, benches, elevator buttons, and handrails will be disinfected daily with EPA-approved and CDC-endorsed disinfectants. "The MTA has stockpiles of hygienic supplies on hand and continues to procure cleaning materials," they noted.

Governor Andrew Cuomo specified that the weapon of choice here is bleach — “If it smells like bleach when you get on the bus… it’s not bad cologne or perfume, it’s bleach."

While cleaning will help kill the virus if it's on any of the surfaces, Dr. Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told Gothamist/WNYC, "There's only so much cleaning that can be done and you never know when something is going to become contaminated. They can't guarantee that there won't be someone who comes there and accidentally contaminates the environment because they may be infected."

So what can you do? Wear gloves, don't touch your face, be aware of your surroundings and try to give yourself space from anyone who appears sick. You can also help by maintaining good hygiene and avoiding the system if you have symptoms.

Cleaning crew on a NYC bus

The buses are also getting cleaned.

The buses are also getting cleaned.
Muhammad Rahman / Gothamist

According to the NY Times, "epidemiologists said that the risk of transmission connected to using public transit is hard to accurately assess... generally speaking, two main factors determined the likelihood of contracting a virus in any given place: how crowded it is and how much time one spends there. But New Yorkers tend to spend less time on subways and buses than they do in other crowded spaces..." Okay, speak for yourself, NY Times.

MTA transit workers clean a subway station in Brooklyn as well as a subway car.

Transit workers cleaning on March 3, 2020

Transit workers cleaning on March 3, 2020
Gretchen Robinette / Gothamist

Pat Foye, MTA Chairman and CEO, said earlier this week, "While we understand the concerns over the coronavirus, the reality is the risk in New York remains low... We want our more than eight million customers and our employees to know that we are taking every precaution to ensure their safety, starting with sanitizing of the entire system."

On screens throughout the system, they are reminding passengers of these simple tips:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. 
  • Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have traveled to areas of concern or have been in contact with somebody who has traveled to these areas should call ahead to their healthcare provider before presenting for treatment. 

Gothamist attended one of the first cleanings earlier this week, click through the above photos for a look.

Additional reporting from Stephen Nessen.