COVID-19 under an electron microscope (NIAID/National Institute of Health)

Last updated: March 20, 2020

As you may have heard, there is an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 novel coronavirus, a new strain of virus that is able to be transmitted from person to person. Several major employers have activated work-from-home policies and several large events have been cancelled and postponed.

For those who need to still get around, the transit agencies of the Puget Sound region have been responding to COVID-19 with new cleaning strategies, which we will summarize and update below.

In general, most agencies are encouraging riders to do the following:

  • Avoid public places and mass gatherings when sick
  • Avoid public places if at a high risk of infection (pregnant persons, over age 60, having an underlying health condition, having a weakened immune system)
  • Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
  • Wash hands frequently for 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Maintain a “social distance” of 6 feet between strangers
  • Telecommute if possible or avoid unnecessary trips

There are several websites with more information on preventative measures and information about COVID-19: Washington State Dept. of Health, King County/Seattle Health, Snohomish Health District, Tacoma/Pierce County Health Dept.

In addition to the resources listed below (organized by operator), transit riders can protect themselves by using gloves, frequent handwashing, and avoiding touching surfaces when possible. One example being the use of ticket vending machines: it may be easier to instead load an ORCA pass or refill your e-purse the night before (or the afternoon before).

The Seattle Times also has excellent, paywall-free coverage of the coronavirus situation that is updated more frequently.

Sound Transit

Sound Transit has announced that it will put more focus on cleaning vehicles and facilities “more deeply and frequently”, especially on “high touch” surfaces such as handrails, escalators, and elevator buttons.

Riders can call or text the security office at (206) 398-5268 to report a biohazard or unsanitary condition that requires attention. Sound Transit has promised to remove vehicles from service for deep cleaning in the event of a biohazard or spill.

As of March 12, Sound Transit’s fare enforcement on Link light rail and Sounder will not ask for proof of payment. The officers will still board trains, but will try to limit person-to-person contact.

As of March 19, Sound Transit will begin temporary reductions of service on Link, Sounder, and ST Express. Link will remain on its Connect 2020 schedule, with 14-minute frequencies, in addition to the weekend closure between SODO and Capitol Hill planned for March 20 to 21. Sounder trips will be reduced for both lines and ST Express trips will also be affected.

Fare collection will be suspended until further notice.

King County Metro

King County Metro is increasing the frequency of its cleanings, including the use of backpack sprayers every night. Buses will be given their monthly “deep clean” every 15 days ($), and drivers will be encouraged to carry disinfectant kits with them.

Metro has a hotline at (205) 553-3000 and also monitors the Twitter feed at @kcmetrobus for reports of unhygienic situations. For more immediate care, riders should alert the bus driver or another Metro employee.

As of March 12, Metro is temporarily ceasing in-person fare enforcement inspections. Fare enforcement officers will continue to board buses to inform passengers and assist in other situations.

The Via ride-hail system in the Rainier Valley will suspend all operations until further notice.

Community Transit

Community Transit has updated its vehicle cleaning procedures to include a nightly disinfecting of high-touch surfaces on buses, including handles and buttons. The agency’s main phone line at (425) 353-7433 is open weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Beginning March 20, all Community Transit buses will be fare-free. All customers will board through the rear doors on Community Transit buses except for those needing ADA or ramp access. On Swift, the middle and rear doors will be used except for those needing ADA or ramp access.

Community Transit buses are going fare-free beginning March 20 and will have reduced service beginning March 30.

Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries has issued a bulletin asking passengers to exercise good personal hygiene when riding its vessels. Ferries are typically given a quick clean of surfaces with disinfectant between departures, including tables, seats, and bathroom faucets, and undergo a deeper clean on a regular basis. Unsanitary conditions can be reported to the local customer service line at (206) 464-6400 or state line at 888-808-7977 (or 511) between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

According to spokesperson Ian Sterling (via The Times), there are plans to reduce ferry service if not enough employees are available for normal operations.

As of March 19, WSF is offering a refund for the unused portion of fares not used and waiving no-show fees on reserved sailings. All service to Sidney, British Columbia is cancelled until April 28. All galleys aboard ferries are closed and some seating areas on board may be cordoned off to promote social distancing.

Kitsap Transit

As of March 16, Kitsap Transit is reducing capacity on its fast ferries and foot ferries to comply with the Governor’s order banning large gatherings. All sailings will be limited to 46 passengers: on the Bremerton fast ferry, passengers with reservations will be allowed to board first-come, first-serve; on the Kingston fast ferry, priority boarding will be given to passengers who ride a connecting bus to the terminal.

Beginning March 23, all ferry and bus services from Kitsap Transit will be fare-free.

Pierce Transit

Pierce Transit is adding additional cleanings for its buses and facilities, especially on high-touch surfaces. The agency wants riders to report unsanitary conditions to bus drivers or their customer service office at (253) 581-8000, option 1.

Beginning Tuesday, March 24, all trips on Pierce Transit will be fare-free until further notice. Passengers will be asked to use the rear doors for boarding except if they need ADA/ramp access.

Intercity Transit

Updated March 15: Intercity Transit will reduce several of its services beginning this week. Beginning on March 16, “The One” express buses and DASH shuttle buses in Olympia will be discontinued. Beginning March 18, trips on the Olympia-Tacoma express bus will be discontinued while other trips on the Olympia-Lakewood will continue with a reduced schedule. Dial-a-Lift service may also be affected.

Seattle Center Monorail

Updated March 16: The monorail has seen a massive decline in ridership, with only 5% of the expected ridership on Saturday, March 14, and will close until April 6.

Everett Transit

Everett Transit is sanitizing all high-touch and porous surfaces on their buses and at facilities.

Island Transit

Beginning on March 23, Island Transit will begin using a reduced weekday schedule that is based on existing Saturday service levels but with extended hours of operation. Saturday service will remain the same.

Skagit Transit and Whatcom Transportation Authority

As of March 19, Skagit Transit buses are fare free to allow riders and drivers to observe appropriate social distancing.

The Whatcom Transportation Authority has also made its bus routes and paratransit fare free for the duration of the pandemic.

17 Replies to “Transit agencies respond to COVID-19 novel coronavirus”

  1. I myself woke up this morning with a dry cough, but no fever yet. I don’t plan on taking transit for a long while to minimize exposure to others.

  2. Can someone connect the virus dots from a wet market in Wuhan, China, to the Life Care Center in Kirkland?

    And if part of your answer is an infected employee without symptoms went to work at the Kirkland facility, aren’t we being told that people without symptoms shouldn’t wear masks? Doesn’t the spread suggest even people without symptoms should wear a mask to prevent its spread? Masks also help people to not touch their nose and mouth.

    1. I’ve been wondering how it got to an obscure nursing home first, since it probably doesn’t have much interaction with China and the patients don’t go out as much as other people. We aren’t experts on that nursing home or epidemeologists so you’ll have to ask somewhere else.

      The issue of masks is moot because there aren’t enough masks and only a special kind of mask can stop covid19. You could design an artistic kind of mask to help people not touch their face and make a lot of money, then you wouldn’t have to be a just commentator, you could buy the blog.

      1. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the transmission path was through Lake Washington Tech. The student population is diverse and nursing students are in gen ed classes. Plus with a generally young healthy population, many w/o health insurance, I can see students just passing off the sickness as just another case of the flue.

      2. N99 respirators work just fine to protect against coronavirus and aren’t difficult to acquire at all.

      3. First, note that you’ve experienced many coronaviruses in your life. The “common cold” is not one virus, it’s thousands of variations of virus, many of which are coronaviruses.

        In this particular case, there were 150 other people on the flight from China with the person from Snohomish who was Patient Zero of WA.

        15 or more of those people caught the virus on that flight. Probably a few more at the airport, especially the crew who cleaned that plane, or restocked it for the next flight.

        Plus more from the other five dozen flights from China between that person’s flight and his positive test result.

        Of these few dozen people, no one had a fever. Most had cold symptoms and did what we do when that happens. Blow our nose and continue life as normal.

        Some of those people didn’t even have a stuffy nose. But they still had Covid-19 and still spread it to others.

        Kids under 10 especially seem to be show no symptoms. So maybe someone infected their child, who infected a schoolmate or three, who visited their grandfather at the nursing home.

        People over 60 with existing respiratory issues not only seems to show symptoms, they tend to get viral pneumonia from this disease. A few errant sneezes at dinner time and the whole nursing home is infected.

        According to the mutation rate, the outbreak in the nursing home looks to two or three generations of mutations newer than the Snohomish first case. The disease in spreading widely around Seattle. We’ll not know how widely until hundreds of thousands of people are tested.

      4. There’s now a report that 70 out of the 180 employees at the Life Care Center have COVID-19 symptoms. Presumably, all the employees are wearing masks, and taking extreme safety precautions. If that’s the case, how did the virus spread like wildfire in that facility? And if the answer is it spread before everyone was wearing masks, isn’t that a good argument for us all to wear masks even before having symptoms?

        https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/coronavirus-cases-may-be-higher-than-reported-at-kirkland-nursing-home/

      5. @Sam, I’ve heard the facility had previously received citations for bad sanitation. I wouldn’t actually assume everyone was following proper safety precautions there.

      6. T1, just start manufacturing masks, any kind of nose-and-mouth masks. No need to debate how essential they are; people will buy them.

    2. There’s a shortage of masks. Please reserve them for folks on the front lines, people working in health care. Your part is to practice social distancing. It’s like the Seattle Freeze, on steroids.

  3. Can someone connect the virus dots from a wet market in Wuhan, China, to the Life Care Center in Kirkland?

    I don’t think they know, nor do I think they will ever know. It is like trying to figure out how you get a cold.

    A couple things to consider: Symptoms vary from fatal to extremely mild. This means that it could very easily be spread among people while they don’t feel sick at all (or maybe have the sniffles). There is also a latency period. So you don’t feel sick, but spread it, then get sick.

    And if part of your answer is an infected employee without symptoms went to work at the Kirkland facility, aren’t we being told that people without symptoms shouldn’t wear masks? Doesn’t the spread suggest even people without symptoms should wear a mask to prevent its spread? Masks also help people to not touch their nose and mouth.

    The problem is that there is a mask shortage, and it isn’t clear how much good it would do if everyone wore a mask. It wouldn’t hurt, certainly, but it isn’t clear how much good it would do. Are you going to wear a mask around the house? If not, does everyone wash their hands before they leave the house, and then use clean cloths to open doors? You also have a shortage of masks, which is why it makes sense that the masks be used only by those that are at high risk of spreading the disease.

    Washing your hands is a good idea, as it is far more effective than hand sanitizer.

    Oh, and hear is an interesting tidbit: Antibacterial wipes are no good against this thing, since it is a virus. So if your local bar wipes down the counter with some wet ones, it may give you a false sense of security. Washing with soap and water is likely better and bleach always works.

  4. My guess? Could be merciful that we’ve got no idea how many viruses there are, and always have been, on Earth at any given time. And that likeliest explanation is that the whole planet has now developed into a set of conditions that favor a revival of this particular strain.

    Exactly like the way current spate of range, brush, and forest fires are occurring in places from California to Sweden as the planet warms. Not my favorite part of history, but probably good to check out world economic conditions and also ability to travel that surrounded eruptions of The Black Death.

    My guess about the masks is that we’ve also long since had people working on preventive measures, which present urgent incentive will sooner or later deliver.

    Same, hopefully, with the present world-wide plague of globally maldistributed wealth and power. Which jet airliners and fast pleasure-cruise ships carrying three thousand people each have, not for the first or last time, finally rendered global-lethal.

    Meantime, Alex thanks for helping, and please take care of yourself.

  5. Intercity Transit is reducing service on the 612/620 and temporarily suspending service on The One, DASH, and Nightline

  6. WTA is fare free until further notice and boarding those who are able through the rear door.

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