‘Everybody is very scared’: Struggle to keep apart on subway

  • Subway riders, wearing personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns, step off a train, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo

  • Subway riders, some wearing masks as a protective measure over coronavirus concerns, use the New York City subway system Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo

  • Patrons board a train while wearing masks at the Alantic Avenue station Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

  • Riders, some wearing masks and gloves as a protective measure over coronavirus concerns, enter a New York City subway train Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo

  • An MTA worker wears personal protective equipment at the Grand Army Plaza station Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Frank Franklin II

  • Riders, some wearing face masks due to COVID-19 concerns, wait for a subway train at Queensboro Plaza, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the Long Island City neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo

  • Customers use the New York City subway system while wearing personal protective equipment due to coronavirus concerns, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo

Published: 4/10/2020 4:19:26 PM
Modified: 4/10/2020 4:19:10 PM

NEW YORK — They let trains that look too crowded pass by. If they decide to board, they search for emptier cars to ride in. Then they size up fellow passengers before picking the safest spot they can find to sit or stand for commutes sometimes lasting an hour or more.

This quiet calculus is being performed daily by people who must keep working during the coronavirus pandemic and say the social distancing required is nearly impossible to practice in the enclosed spaces of New York City’s public transit system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people should stay 6 feet apart. But even though ridership has plummeted in the city, making jam-packed trains and buses the exception rather than the rule, passengers aren’t always guaranteed even 6 inches.

“Everybody is very scared,” Shaderra Armstead, a health care clinic receptionist who rides the subway to work, said this week. ”They’re trying to keep their distance from each other, but it’s impossible.”

“It makes me not want to go on the train at all,” she said. “I’m nervous every day, but I still have to go.”

Riders on some trains in Brooklyn and Queens this week sat or stood in some cars within a few feet of one another, some with their faces uncovered, while keeping their distance from homeless people camped out.

At the same time, there are images showing subway platforms mostly empty at times they’d typically be crowded.

Transit officials say they’re working harder than ever to protect passengers and their own workers amid a pandemic that has killed more than 7,000 New Yorkers in just a few weeks, mostly in the city and its suburbs. Several suburban counties in New Jersey and Connecticut have also registered significant numbers of deaths.


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