The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a 60-page guidance document intended to help industries return to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidance includes a section for mass transit administrators, laid out in a series of three steps, to inform a gradual scale up of activities towards pre-COVID-19 operating practices. The scope and nature of community mitigation suggested decreases from Step 1 to Step 3. CDC underlines that some amount of community mitigation is necessary across all steps until a vaccine or therapeutic drug becomes widely available.
The three steps are:
Step 1: Restrict ridership to essential critical infrastructure workers in areas needing significant mitigation and maintain strict social distancing as much as possible.
Step 2: Maintain social distancing between transit riders and employees as much as possible.
Step 3: Encourage social distancing as much as possible.
Across all steps, CDC advises stakeholders to:
- Adjust routes between areas experiencing different levels of transmission (between areas in different steps), to the extent possible.
- Provide employees from higher transmission areas (earlier step areas) telework and other options as feasible to eliminate travel to workplaces in lower transmission (later step) areas and vice versa.
- Establish and maintain communication with state and local health officials to determine current mitigation levels in the communities served.
- Follow CDC’s guidance on what bus transit operators, rail transit operators, transit maintenance workers, and transit station workers need to know about COVID-19.
- Consider assigning workers at high risk of severe illness duties that minimize their contact with passengers and other employees.
- Conduct worksite hazard assessments to identify COVID-19 prevention strategies, such as appropriate use of cloth face coverings or personal protective equipment (PPE), and follow the prevention strategies.
- Enforce everyday preventive actions such as hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and use of a cloth face covering by employees when around others, as safety permits. Provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment as necessary and as available. Communicate with the public about the importance of hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, and using cloth face coverings while using mass transportations, including posting signs in transit stations and vehicles on how to stop the spread of COVID-19, properly wash hands, promote everyday protective measures, and properly wear a face covering.
- Ensure adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors for transit operators, employees, and passengers in stations, including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, paper towels, tissues, and no-touch trash cans.
- Post signs on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 properly wash hands, promote everyday protective measures, and properly wear a face covering.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (for example, kiosks, digital interfaces such as touchscreens and fingerprint scanners, ticket machines, turnstiles, handrails, restroom surfaces, elevator buttons) at least daily or between use as feasible.
- Clean and disinfect the operator area between operator shifts.
- Use touchless payment and no-touch trash cans and doors as much as possible, when available. Ask customers and employees to exchange cash or credit cards by placing in a receipt tray or on the counter rather than by hand and wipe any pens, counters, or hard surfaces between each use or customer.
- Avoid using or sharing items that are not easily cleaned, sanitized, or disinfected, such as disposable transit maps.
- Ensure safe and correct application of disinfectants.
- Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash and wash hands afterwards.
- Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible such as by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if they pose a safety risk to passengers or employees, or other vulnerable individuals.
- Take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (for example, drinking fountains, decorative fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water.
- Train all employees in safety actions while maintaining social distancing during training. Consider conducting daily health checks (e.g., temperature screening and/or symptom checking) of all employees.
- If implementing health checks, conduct them safely and respectfully, and in accordance with any applicable privacy laws and regulations. Confidentiality should be respected. Employers may use examples of screening methods in CDC’s General Business FAQs as a guide.
- Employees with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) at work should immediately be sent home.
- Inform those who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms, and to follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop. If a person does not have symptoms follow appropriate CDC guidance for home isolation.
- Establish procedures for safely transporting anyone sick to their home or to a healthcare facility.
- Notify local health officials, staff, and customers (if possible) immediately of any possible case of COVID-19 while maintaining confidentiality consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other applicable federal and state privacy laws.
- Close off areas used by a sick person and do not use until after cleaning and disinfection. Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting. If 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. Ensure safe and correct application of disinfectants and keep disinfectant products away from children. Affected vehicles can be used immediately after cleaning and disinfection.
- Advise sick staff members not to return until they have met CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation.
- Implement safety practices for critical infrastructure workers who may have had exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
- Implement flexible sick leave and other flexible policies and practices, if feasible.
- Monitor absenteeism of employees and create a roster of trained back-up staff.
- Designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns. Employees and customers should know who this person is and how to contact them.
- Create and test communication systems for employees and customers for self-reporting of symptoms and notification of exposures and closures.
- Support coping and resilience among employees.
- Coordinate with State and local health department officials about transmission in the area as frequently as possible and adjust operations accordingly.
- Be prepared to consider adjusting services as appropriate if the community mitigation level increases in the local area.
- Continue communication with staff and the public about decision-making.
The guidance on social distancing is divided into guidance for steps 1 and 2, and guidance for step 3 alone. For step 1 and 2, CDC advises mass transit administrators to:
- Institute measures to physically separate or create distance of at least six feet between all occupants to the extent possible. This may include asking bus passengers to enter and exit the bus through rear doors, while allowing exceptions for persons with disabilities; closing every other row of seats; reducing maximum occupancy of buses and individual subway and train cars and increasing service on crowded routes as appropriate.
- Provide physical guides to ensure that customers remain at least six feet apart while on vehicles and at transit stations and stops. For example, floor decals, colored tape, or signs to indicate where passengers should not sit or stand can be used to guide passengers.
- Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at staffed kiosks and on transit vehicles to the extent practicable.
- Close communal spaces, such as break rooms, if possible; otherwise, stagger use and clean and disinfect in between uses.
For the third step, CDC guidance states:
- Consider or continue instituting measures to physically separate or create distance between occupants.
- Provide physical guides to help customers maintain physical distance while on vehicles and at transit stations and stops. For example, floor decals, colored tape, or signs to indicate where passengers should not sit or stand can be used to guide passengers.
- Install or maintain physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at staffed kiosks and on transit vehicles to the extent practicable.
CDC’s guidance says all decisions about following these recommendations should be made in collaboration with local health officials and other state and local authorities who can help assess the current level of mitigation needed based on levels of COVID-19 community transmission and the capacities of the local public health and healthcare systems.