I have bad news and good news.
The bad news is we will all, eventually, probably get the COVID-19 virus. It’s not an issue of “if” but “when”. Connecticut’s state epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter confirmed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent prediction that 70% of the US population will get the virus.
The good news is, for most of us the symptoms will be mild… maybe a fever and a cough. But we will survive. For the elderly, those in bad health or compromised immune systems, the risks are much higher.
So what officials are trying to do now is “flatten the curve”… to spread out the cases of infection over time so as to not overwhelm the healthcare system. The prescription now is “social distancing”: avoiding crowds. And the effects of this on commuting are obvious.
As people either self-quarantine or are told to work from home, ridership on Metro-North is down by almost 90%. Bus ridership in Connecticut is also down. Even the ferry to Long Island is seeing a dip. And the usually clogged highways are much less so.
The short term implications of this already include reduced train and bus service. But people who work in auto body shops can’t telecommute. And neither can health care workers many of whom rely on buses to get to their now-crucial jobs.
For mass transit to keep running the folks who drive those trains and buses need to stay healthy as well. Transit officials I’ve spoken to says they’ve long had plans in place if workers can’t show up.
So far the social isolation has meant more time with your family and nice walks in the sunshine. But with schools, libraries, restaurants and the Y all closed, that’s going to get old really fast. Then what do we do?
Given that this pandemic will be with us for weeks, maybe months, what happens when we return to commuting and someone on your train coughs? All the “deep cleaning” on the planet can’t stop airborne transmission of the virus. Those people with symptoms (fever, dry cough) should be staying home or at least wearing masks, not us healthy riders. Will people with springtime allergies be perceived as virus victims or vectors?
Longer term the implications are more ominous. The world of “getting there” will be changed forever.
Reduced mass transit ridership means reduced fare collection while fixed operating costs remain high. Somehow the difference must be made up with fare hikes or fewer trains and buses.
And what if people find they don’t need to commute, that virtual meetings online are as effective and a lot less stressful than the daily commute to an office? Is that day-trip to Denver really necessary? How about going overseas? Do you really want to get stranded in Vienna, however great the pastries?
Anybody for a cruise? When those ships come back the fares will be ridiculously low… if you’re brave enough to get onboard.
I’m no doctor but I am following orders to stay home. And though I fully expect to eventually get the virus myself, right now I’m doing what I can to stay healthy and boost my immune system… eating my fruits and veggies and getting as much rest as possible.
So excuse me now while I go wash my hands.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media