B.C. has seen no COVID-19 outbreaks or exposure events linked to public transit, and transit is not thought to be a major source of transmission for the virus, according to health and transit officials.
Research on transmission on public transit has been limited, however the experience here is consistent with what has been observed in other jurisdictions around the world.
“We’d like people just to understand that the industry and others are studying this, and to date it suggests that you’re not putting yourself in any significant risk by taking public transportation,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.
A data review conducted by the American Public Transportation Association found no outbreaks traced to public transit in the U.S. as of August 2020 and there is a weak or non-existent correlation between infection rates and transit usage in U.S. cities. Similar information has come from agencies in France, Japan, South Korea, China and Italy.
Face coverings and physical distancing are found to be most important when it comes to preventing spread on transit, while ventilation, filtration, air flow and cleaning are also helpful.
Most cases linked to the transportation sector have been from tour buses, planes and cruise ships as opposed to public transit, and took place early on in the pandemic.
Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson said on Monday, after announcing yet another spike in COVID-19 cases in B.C. over the weekend, that although it can be difficult to determine specifically whether transmission occurred on public transit, there are indications that it is not a major source.
The reason they are able to say that is the vast majority of people in B.C. infected with COVID-19 have been able to determine, after some investigation, where they were infected.
“Most of us don’t know who we were on transit with, and therefore if we thought that places like transit and other areas where we have casual contact with people were a major source of transmission, then the proportion of people who didn’t know where they were infected would be much higher,” Gustafson said.
One reason for the lack of spread on transit is that policies such as making mask wearing mandatory, reducing vehicle capacity and increased cleaning are in place on both TransLink and B.C. Transit systems.
“If you add up the summary of evidence, the totality of evidence about where transmission is occurring, it does not occur in places where people have safety protocols in place,” Gustafson said.
Desmond agreed. He said we’ve learned a lot about how to protect ourselves and each other since the spring.
“I think as long as we’re all doing the right thing, whether you the individual rider or we the transit operator, that you can go into the transit system with a degree of confidence that you’re not going to put yourself at particular risk going in venturing out to transit,” Desmond said. “Our major challenge is restoring that trust and confidence of the people who are not yet back to riding transit.”
Although their contact is less frequent than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, Desmond said TransLink has an “open line of communication” with the province and public health authorities and expects TransLink would be told if there were any issues with virus transmission on transit.
“They are satisfied with the things that we’ve been doing so far and the fact that there has been no reported incidents of community transmission on transit, I presume it has not been an issue of particular priority for public health as they’ve been continuing to deal with the crisis,” Desmond said.