By Beckie Strum
Even the commute will look different for many workers in the city, as businesses stagger work schedules to help relieve congestion on the public transportation system.
Subway stations will now make hand sanitizer available; police officers will hand out masks; and markings on the ground will help direct the flow of riders and space people apart on platforms, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said on Friday. Those changes, as well as daily disinfecting and experimental air filtration, will be part of a 13-point plan for getting the system up and running on Monday, when weekday subway service will go back to normal for the first time in more than two months, during which ridership plummeted over 90%.
Ridership on subways is expected to increase to 10% to 15%, and bus ridership to 30% of pre-pandemic levels, MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye said at a briefing on Friday. The MTA has resisted calls from Mayor Bill de Blasio to enforce social distancing on the system, saying that masks and sanitation are sufficient.
“Seoul, Berlin and Tokyo, which represent similar sized transit systems, carrying millions of passengers a day,” Mr. Foye said, have required masks without social distancing, and the cities have seen “no significant spikes in COVID cases.”
New York City is the last region of the state to begin reopening. It took a strict lockdown, aggressive public health campaigns, and some of the highest per-capita testing in the country to wrangle new cases down to a manageable level. On Wednesday, only 4% of people tested were positive for COVID-19, down from 30% or more at the peak of the crisis, de Blasio said on Friday morning. The city confirmed seven deaths that day, down from a daily peak of nearly 600 in early April.
Even over the last several weeks, the city has seen a gradual increase in commercial activity, as more essential businesses, such as eateries, laundromats and small groceries, figured out how to operate in this new normal, said Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
Manufacturing has also ramped up gradually ahead of Phase 1, as factories pivoted to make personal protective equipment, Peers said, adding that he expected most manufacturing to reopen on Monday.
Same goes for construction, he said, where a lot of work happens outdoors. De Blasio said on Friday he expects 32,000 construction workers to get back on the job Monday.
Peers described the feeling in Brooklyn’s business community as one of optimism.
“Any reopening is a positive reopening for everybody,” he said. “Even businesses that are not Phase 1 are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The next hurdle will be making sure the city can keep the spread of the disease under control as more activity resumes. City and state officials have called on protesters to get tested and have worried publicly that the mass gatherings could trigger a resurgence of cases. On Thursday, the number of people walking into hospitals with suspected COVID-19 jumped to 84 from 48 the day before.
But if the cases stay relatively low, Phase 2 of the reopening, Peers said, “is really where the rubber hits the road.”
Other New York developments Thursday:
Coronavirus: Deaths and hospitalizations dropped to their lowest level since the pandemic started, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday, reporting 42 deaths on Thursday.
Police reforms: The governor called for a series of reforms, including a ban on chokeholds and making race-fueled 911 calls a hate crime, in light of the national outrage over Floyd’s death. He also detailed two cases of police violence against protesters on Thursday, including Buffalo officers shoving a 75-year-old man. Those officers have been suspended without pay, he said.