Coronavirus prompts New York City to close subways overnight for ‘daily deep cleaning’

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Starting next week, the New York City subway will shut down overnight for “daily deep cleanings” in an effort to rid the public transportation system of the novel coronavirus and ultimately better protect essential workers who use the service during that time.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Thursday announced the new cleaning schedule, noting the trains would shut down from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. every night beginning May 6. The news was confirmed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his daily press briefing. Some 472 stations will close each night for the cleanings, The Wall Street Journal reported, noting this is the first time the subway will stop running 24 hours a day as part of its regular schedule.

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During the cleaning period, “the MTA will intensify disinfecting operations, cleaning its fleet of thousands of cars and buses every night, and further testing new and innovative cleaning solutions, including UV, antimicrobials and electrostatic disinfectants,” according to the news release. 

Essential workers who are affected by the overnight closure will be offered alternative transportation methods through the MTA’s new “Essential Connector” service, which will include buses and for-hire vehicles at no cost to customers. Those using the new service will have to show proof they are an essential worker and will be limited to two trips per night for the for-hire vehicles.

Some 11,000 nightly riders are expected to be impacted by the scheduling changes, some 5,692 of whom use the trains between 4-5:00 a.m. alone, officials said.

The subways will close from 1-5 a.m. every night, officials said.

The subways will close from 1-5 a.m. every night, officials said. (iStock)

“We need to do everything we can to ensure our system is clean, disinfected and as safe as possible –  and we have to get it right. Closing our system for a limited time overnight will enable us to clean and disinfect every car, every night. We also want to make sure we find a way to do this as efficiently and in as innovative a way as possible to ensure we are maximizing safety of our riders,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit, in a statement.

The Long Island Railroad and Metro-North trains will also undergo similar cleanings, though without any planned service changes, according to the New York Post. City buses will continue to run around-the-clock but will be rotated out of service for cleaning.

The overnight service will also help empty stations of the city’s homeless population, many of whom have increasingly taken up residence on vacant trains as ridership has fallen more than 90 percent in recent weeks.

“This new plan will disrupt that unacceptable reality and allow us to actually get help to people more effectively,” New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said earlier this week, according to the Post. “If you’re not going back and forth all night on the train, then you actually are coming above ground where outreach workers are there to help you.”

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Cuomo said the extra cleaning in the vast system is a “daunting challenge,” but vital to keeping subways safe.

“You have to disinfect every place a hand could touch on a subway car. Every rail, every pole, every door,” Cuomo said. “Or, coughing, sneezing, wherever droplets could land.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.