Major U.S. cities step up mass transit sanitation efforts amid coronavirus pandemic

U.S. cities rush to sanitize subways, buses
U.S. cities rush to sanitize subways, buses 03:41

As concern over the coronavirus grows, the hard-hit travel industry, including airlines as well as mass public transit, is going to great lengths to ensure sanitized conditions in a bid to ease public fears as more and more people choose to avoid travel. New York's Metro North train ridership is down 48%, while in Washington, D.C., there were nearly 100,000 fewer people on the metro Wednesday than the week prior. 

"I have no concerns riding the system daily," the D.C. metro's head of safety, Theresa Impastato, told CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

The Washington D.C. mass transit system has activated the first two phases of its pandemic plan, which includes increasing the pace of cleaning.

"Folks should not utilize the system if they're ill," Impastato warned. "But at this point, we don't think that folks should panic."

In New York City, the nation's busiest mass transit system, all 741 rail and subway stations are being disinfected twice a day. Crews are also disinfecting subways and rail cars, as well as buses, every 72 hours. 

Despite that, top mass transit official Patrick Foye told the public, "If you can get around without riding the subway, do it. If telecommuting is an option, do it." 

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority also released a statement which read, "We have contingency plans for every possible scenario. There is no intention to shut down or reduce service as of this time. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we will continue to monitor."

The Los Angeles metro crews are taking similar measures, disinfecting and wiping down all surfaces its 1.1 million daily riders may touch.

"As far away as you can get from other passengers on mass transit, the better you're going to do," CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus cautioned. He called "social distancing" a key precaution, and recommended that rush hour commuters would do well to go to work an hour earlier, "when it's not as busy."

Airlines, which have been forced to cut flights as travel restrictions and passenger cancellations impact the industry, are also taking extra sanitary measures. Unlike trains and buses, airliners cycle in fresh air every two to four minutes and use hospital-grade air filters to separate out bacteria and viruses.

"We have very clean airplanes that are disinfected and sanitized every single night, very, very thoroughly," Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said.

When asked if his airline made any changes to their routine cleaning in light of the coronavirus, he said they did.

"We're using different disinfectants, we're doing a more thorough cleaning of every surface. So that's absolutely more thorough than we would normally do, but it's something that we feel like we need to be doing," he said.

President Trump's coronavirus travel restrictions have not affected long-distance domestic travel so far,  but on Thursday he did not rule out the restriction of that travel if the virus gets out of hand in the country.