Fighting COVID on the home front – How habits away from trains and buses can impact fellow GO Transit riders

We’ve all worked and sacrificed a lot to get us to this new normal. Businesses are opening up across the region and life is resuming some sense of normality, including riders coming back to public transit. In this column, Metrolinx senior manager of media, Anne Marie Aikins – who has been acting as the Emergency Information Officer for Metrolinx during the COVID-19 pandemic – connects the lines of actions away from transit, to keeping fellow travelers safe when you do step on our vehicles.

At this very moment, it’s so easy to let our guard down.

To give in – for a bit – and try not to let the ongoing pandemic rob of us of any more intimate moments of close contact with those we’ve done without.

But this war on COVID-19 is not over – by a long shot. And this column, which I hope won’t be another preaching of how you should behave, because you’ve all done so much already – is just a reminder that it’s now easy to forget the enemy and leave a door open.

That our actions in the back yard, or on a restaurant patio, or greeting friends in a park on a bright summer day, carry over into every other part of our days – and the many people we come in contact with or even pass on a GO Transit train or bus.

Metrolinx began 2020 by initiating our pandemic response plan—we’ve talked about our efforts in Metrolinx News many times.

A frame-grab of Anne Marie during a TV appearance.

Metrolinx’s Anne Marie Aikins, appearing in a recent broadcast media interview.

It has been over six months since the first person in Canada tested positive for the Coronavirus. And now more than116,000 people have tested positive and tragically nearly 9,000 have died from this virus.

For more than 130 days, at times excruciatingly lonely days, we’ve faithfully followed the guidance of our public health officials. That’s a long time with few to any hugs or handshakes, parties or celebrations, sustained visits or contact with our colleagues, family and friends who nurture, entertain, commiserate and support us throughout our life during the best of times but most especially during the worst of times.

We’ve all been starved of contact and connection.

We’ve missed all the usual weddings, graduations, vacations and funerals.

No videoconference call can ever replace the healing power of a single warm embrace.

I lost one of my younger sisters just before lockdown, and our Jenny remains unburied and my family’s mourning done in isolation without the community closure a funeral facilitates.

A stone statue wears a face covering.

A stone inukshuk, wearing a non-surgical face mask, sits outside a home in Brampton, Ont. Habits at home can carry over to all the places you travel. (Thane Burnett photo)

No doubt, life has been hard — especially for those on the frontlines. Many people have really suffered, lost loved ones to this virus, lost income due to job loss or lost a stable home or relationship. Our collective mental health has taken a beating and many are feeling wounded.

We’re exhausted by it all and desire some sense of security and peace that only our friends and family can provide.

I get that. Nothing I want more as well. I’m an extrovert that thrives around smart, creative, funny, passionate people — like our customers and staff. I miss them all.

But there is so much to lose if we let our exhaustion give into the desire to throw the health rules under, well, the bus.

Public health officials have seen some worrisome trends of late — although we’ve continued to make progress on reducing the transmission, the numbers of people contracting the virus still persists and younger people now account for half the growth of cases perhaps related to house parties or other big gatherings.

Convincing our youth to use protection has always been a challenge we’ve often failed at miserably. Risky behaviours, however are not reserved to only the frisky.

COVID is not taking the summer off, so we all, young and not so young, must not let down our guard. Metrolinx hasn’t.

All of our more than 40 safety actions — such as extensive cleaning across the system, broad availability of hand sanitizer, health kiosks in stations and other marketing campaigns to help educate customers, adding protective screens and barriers between seats on trains and buses, wayfinding in stations, staff wearing face coverings and other PPE, and more — remain in place to continue to protect our customers and staff as the pandemic persists.

Metrolinx remains 100 per cent committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure we continue to stop the virus in its tracks.

We need our customers to keep their guard up too.

A passanger stands in the door of a train. (Lorne Bridgman photo)

Go Transit customer S. Thiru, aboard a GO train. (Lorne Bridgman photo)

At the beginning of the pandemic, people heeded public health advice and ridership plummeted on GO Transit and UP Express by 90 per cent, an unprecedented low after steady ridership growth year over year.

Now, as the economy begins to open up we are seeing people come back to both GO and UP service. Ridership has grown 50 per cent, month over month. It means people are trusting in the safety procedures we have in place. That’s good news.

As ridership increases and physical distancing becomes more of a challenge on our services, face coverings are critical in making people feel safer on their journey and limit the transmission of the virus. So we made it mandatory. And our customers responded as the good partners they are and most have been wearing their face coverings or non-medical masks faithfully. That’s more good news.

Public health officials have told us covering our collective noses and mouths is just one way to slow the spread and is most effective when added to all of the other measures.

Continue to stay home if you are sick or think you’ve been exposed. Get tested. It’s easy, just a wee bit uncomfortable in the nose region, and testing is readily available and quick.

I hate to burst your bubble, but please choose how many you let into your circle judiciously. You don’t want that moment of glory, of reconnecting with friends, to become regretted and a cautionary tale for others.

Keep everyone outside your circle at a distance, six feet away specifically whenever possible.

Wash your hands frequently. Scrub them like you just picked up your pooch’s poo. That works for me better than the birthday song. Use hand sanitizer too — you can find it everywhere now. Keep some in your purse or jacket and throw in some disinfecting wipes. It’s often as easy as toilet paper to find in stores now.

As you open up your social bubbles, keep your visiting outdoors. Enjoy the nice weather. It’s good for the soul. And the fresh air reduces the virus’ ability to spread.

As horrific as the tally of illness and deaths has been, the losses could have been so much higher if not for your commitment to protecting public health throughout this pandemic.

You saved lives.

Now is the time to double down in your resolve. The celebrations, the public good-byes and the healing will come in time.

I wear my face covering and wash my hands so my big family can finally be together to lay my sister Jenny to rest at last.

Whatever your motivation, keep doing the right thing like lives depend on it.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager, Media.