Transportation: Getting Around During an Outbreak

Coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads through close contact. 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. It's possible to spread the virus once you're infected, even if you don't show symptoms.

Wear a cloth face mask when you’re around other people. If you have to cough or sneeze during your ride, do it into a tissue or your sleeve to avoid spreading your germs to the other passengers.

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. Leave an empty seat between you and the next passenger.

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. 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.

Ride-Sharing

People who don't own a car may rely on ride-sharing services to get around. These services have already made changes in response to COVID-19, like canceling carpools. 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.

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. Wear a cloth face mask, and wash your hands as soon as you can after your ride.

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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.

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.

Wear a cloth face mask when you’re in airports and on planes, as well. Some airlines require customers 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.

Driving

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 18, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "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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