Metrolinx releases COVID-19 measures update for GO Transit and UP Express

The transit agency has responded to an announcement by Toronto Public Health officials of two more people testing positive for the virus in Toronto, including one who used GO Transit. Health officials say the risk of transmission on public transit is considered low. Here’s the latest.

While the risk remains low, Metrolinx is working closely with Toronto Public Health, after it was announced a 40-year-old man who recently travelled here from Las Vegas, and was diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, took the route 27 GO bus between March 2 and March 4.

Public health officials say the man boarded the bus around 6 p.m. on each of those days, getting off the bus at Yorkdale GO, travelling from his workplace.

“Public transit use in this particular circumstance and the exposure with respect to public transit is considered low risk,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

A man clean a hand rail on a GO bus.

The upper level of a GO bus is sprayed with a cleaning agent. (Metrolinx photo)

She added that she and her family will continue to use public transit, adding that Toronto Public Health is only providing the transit use history out of an abundance of caution.

Metrolinx has now identified the vehicles used on those days, and as a precaution they are being taken out of service and are being given an extra cleaning.

The Metrolinx COVID-19 response team is monitoring the situation very closely – and at this time, the risk for both customers and staff remains very low.

To provide an additional level of protection for staff and customers, Metrolinx has begun applying a long-acting, anti-microbial agent to the entire bus and train fleets.

A man wipes down GO bus seats.

A crew member cleans a GO bus. At least 40 buses are being specially cleaned each day. (Metrolinx photo)

To date, more than 150 buses have been treated, with an additional 40 more being completed each day.

All UP Express trains were treated earlier this week and crews continue to apply the microbial agent to dozens of GO train coaches each night.

The agent is proven to be effective at killing bacteria, mould, yeast and some viruses – with further lab testing underway now.

That work is ongoing and is in addition to the thorough cleaning each vehicle receives at the end of each day.

As a public transport agency that moves more than 300,000 people every day, this wasn’t unexpected news. We are very prepared.

A bus goes through a wash.

A GO bus goes through a complete wash. (Metrolinx photo)

For the past six weeks, an experienced team has been fully engaged developing a strategy to respond to the outbreak of coronavirus (now known as COVID-19). That includes a strategy to communicate regularly and to ensure our customers and staff receive the best advice from public health experts rather than rumours and misinformation.

We have also been distributing gel-based hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes throughout all work places and GO stations including our buses. Stations and buses should all be fully installed with hand-sanitizers over the next week or two.

Should public health officials determine that additional measures and precautions need to be taken, Metrolinx is ready for that as well. The organization recently procured enough respirators for all front line staff, as well as gloves – but at this point, public health officials say that type of personal protective equipment is not required. They maintain that the risk of transmission is extremely low unless you are in sustained contact with an infected person.

The World Health Organization has also published advice on the use of masks in the context of the COVID19 outbreak, and reports wearing medical masks when not mandated may “create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. Furthermore, using a mask incorrectly may hamper its effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission.”

We’re also continually reviewing our current protocols and systems very closely for any changes to recommendations and risk levels from public health authorities.

Metrolinx has learned a lot about managing a pandemic-type crisis since SARS and H1N1 – two past global viruses – and how important it is to communicate to staff and customers early, openly and frequently.

As a public transit agency with thousands of employees who are in contact with millions of people, it is important that we encourage our staff and customers to be proactive about protecting themselves from any virus.

This includes following all directives of public health, such as washing your hands regularly, coughing and sneezing into your sleeve, staying home if you’re sick and consulting with your health care professional if you have concerns.

For those looking to self-monitor for COVID-19, click here.

For Public Health Ontario guidance, click here.

Story by Matt Llewellyn, senior advisor, Media Relations and Issues.