MBTA announces disinfection effort to help curb any potential coronavirus exposure

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker held a news conference on Wednesday afternoon along with other state officials, including the General Manager of the MBTA, Steve Poftak. Announced at the meeting was a new plan that the MBTA will undertake to help combat against coronavirus.

The organization will begin disinfecting all surfaces that commuters touch multiple times a day.

While the plan went into effect on Wednesday, the work won’t begin everywhere until the end of the week. The disinfection effort will begin, the MBTA says, with the Commuter Rail.

A Keolis spokesperson says they already clean Commuter Rail trains every night. Next up will be sanitizers in stations for subway vehicles and extra cleaning of contact surfaces, like fare machines and railings.

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In the subway, Poftak says this will be every four hours.

“I think that’s really good,” said Marty West, who lives in Stoughton, on the announcement. "I don’t even use the railings. I don’t touch them on the way down.”

Poftak spoke at the State House alongside Baker, the State Health Commissioner and the chancellor of UMass Amherst, and others about what the state government is doing to prepare for a possible rise in local coronavirus cases.

Still, there is just one confirmed and one presumptive case of the disease in the Commonwealth.

More than 400 of the 719 people self-quarantined have already completed the mandatory, two-week monitoring and were cleared to leave their homes, according to state Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.

Roughly 250 remain in the protocol, which includes taking their temperature daily and updating local health officials if they develop a fever, cough or other symptoms, she said.

Twenty people have also been tested for the virus, with most of the results coming back negative.

“A lot of the work we're doing is preparing out of an abundance of caution,” said Monica Bharel, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. “The risk to the general population of Massachusetts remains low.”

In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began its disinfection efforts early in March, with the goal of cleaning surfaces every three days. In the subway, the MBTA says it’ll happen every four hours.

Massport CEO Lisa Wieland says rigorous cleaning began last month at Logan Airport. She added that they plan to add more sanitizer stations at the airport.

Amtrak said more sanitizer and wipes will be offered on trains and in stations, as well as in crew offices, according to a statement. Trains, handrails, bathrooms and doorknobs will be cleaned more frequently, sometimes hourly, and the company said it’s also bulking up on inventory like gloves and antibacterial products.

Baker also made a plea to both high schools and local colleges to cancel upcoming international trips. UMass Amherst’s chancellor added that the school canceled abroad programs and brought students back from China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

“It is a very big deal because it has implications in terms of the great completion timetables for families and the cost associated with it,” said Kumble R. Subbaswamy, the school’s chancellor. "And they really put a lot of effort into planning their trips.”

Chancellor Subbaswamy also commented on the state of a UMass Boston student who became the first Massachusetts resident to have a confirmed case of coronavirus.

“Fully recovered, from everything I have heard,” she said.