Transportation: Getting Around During an Outbreak

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 26, 2022

Coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads largely by droplets or inhaling very fine, aerosolized particles carrying the virus, The CDC's advice is to stay at least 6 feet away from people in public. But it's hard to keep your distance when you're crammed into a crowded subway car or bus.

You'll have less exposure to germs if you drive your own car, ride a bike, or walk to work. But what should you do if you have to take public transportation? And how safe is ride-sharing? Here's a guide to getting around safely.

Trains and Buses

To protect everyone who rides, stay at home if you're sick. Don't ride public transportation if you have symptoms or you know you've been around someone with COVID-19 and it is recommended that you quarantine. It's possible to spread the virus once you're infected, even if you don't show symptoms.

Wear a close-fitting face mask when you’re around other people. Look for a mask that fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin. Check the CDC website for the latest guidance on what type of mask works best. Whether you use washable cloth masks or disposable “procedure masks” like N95 or KN95 masks, look for those with several layers of fabric and a wire over the nose to ensure a snug fit. Masks are sometimes required on public transportation and in many businesses, and during the pandemic, they help protect not just you, but those around you as well. If you have to cough or sneeze during your ride, do it into your mask, and then changed your mask and wash your hands when you are able to do so safely.

Travel at off-peak times when you can -- like late morning or before evening rush hour. Avoid subway cars and buses packed with people. If you count more than 10-15 passengers on your bus or train, wait for the next one. try to leave an empty seat between you and the next passenger when possible.

Try not to hold onto the metal subway pole. Coronaviruses can live on metal surfaces for up to 5 days. If you have to touch the pole, use a tissue or cleanse your hands immediately afterward. Transit systems have stepped up their efforts to clean and disinfect train cars and buses, but it can be hard to know when yours was last scrubbed down.

As soon as you get home or to the office, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t do that, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Don't touch your face until after you've cleaned your hands.


People who don't own a car may rely on ride-sharing services to get around. These services have made changes in response to COVID-19, like limiting riders and requiring face masks. They've also given drivers disinfectants to keep their cars clean. They might also temporarily suspend the accounts of drivers who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or have tested positive.

While many services no longer require facemasks, you may want to wear one anyway for your own protection. 

For the driver's safety, don't ride if you feel sick. Even if you're healthy, sit in the back to keep some distance between you and the driver. Wash your hands as soon as you can after your ride.

Air Travel

The CDC recommends that you check before traveling to see if COVID-19 is spreading at your destination. If it is, you may want to postpone your trip -- especially if you're over 60 or at a higher risk for a severe illness because of a condition like heart disease or diabetes. Some areas are requiring proof of negative tests and even proof of vaccination.

If you're healthy, your risk of catching the virus on a plane is pretty low. The air on planes goes through a filter that catches most viruses and other germs. To be safe, carry disinfectant wipes, and clean off your seat and tray table before you sit down.

Even though they are no longer required, wear a high-filtration face mask when you’re in airports and on planes, as well. All airlines currently require anyone over the age of 2 to wear them.

You're more likely to get infected if you sit close to someone who is sick. If someone near you is coughing or looks ill, ask the flight attendants to move you or that person to a seat at least 6 feet away.


When you drive, you’ll need to refuel. That means you'll have to use gas pumps and credit card keypads that other people have touched.

To protect yourself, carry a pair of disposable gloves in your car. Put them on before you pay or pump gas. Or use a disinfecting wipe to clean off the pump handle and keypad. After you finish pumping gas, wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Show Sources


CDC: "COVID-19, " "SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments," "Coronavirus and Travel in the United States," "How Coronavirus Spreads," "How to Protect Yourself," "Travel: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers," "Updated Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)," “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19."

Community Transit: "Community Transit Coronavirus Update."

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: "Consumer Tips on Skimmers, Coronavirus, and Staying Safe at the Gas Pump."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Do I Do If I Feel Sick?"

Journal of Hospital Infection: "Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation of biocidal agents."

Journal of Urban Health: "The role of subway travel in an influenza epidemic: A New York City Simulation."

Metro Transit: "Good question: How are buses and trains cleaned?" "Metro Transit's Response to COVID-19 (coronavirus)."

Lyft: “Lyft’s latest on COVID-19.”

Uber: "Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources & Updates," “Supporting Cities and Communities Around the World.”

Washington Department of Health: "Guidance for Rideshare and Taxi Drivers."

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