How LA Metro riders are handling coronavirus anxiety

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Public transit stops in downtown. Photo by Amy Ta.

The reality of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, has shifted everyday life around the world. Italy has ordered a nationwide lockdown, while Israel is ordering everyone entering the country to self-quarantine for 14 days. Santa Clara County has banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

That’s not yet the case in Southern California. As of noon today,  LA County has 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including one who has fully recovered. 

For one of those cases, no one has been able to identify where the person got exposed to the virus.

Local health officials say stay home if you're feeling sick, and keep some distance away from others.  

But what happens if being close to others is part of daily life? That’s the reality facing thousands of Angelenos who rely on public transit to get to work every day. 

So we ask commuters on buses and trains how they’re feeling. 

“The coronavirus started hitting, and people started freaking out. I’ve even seen some people lick the poles on purpose, claiming they have the coronavirus,” said Paul Solis, who commuted to downtown LA every day before the coronavirus. 

Now he drives to work, which costs an extra $20 a day. That means he spends an extra $100 a week -- the same price as an unlimited, monthly LA Metro pass. 

“I did try to take transit a little bit longer, but I noticed the transit buses ... were never clean. ... People don’t care. You could tell that the Metro isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do to keep it … clean,” he says.

While Solis has given up on public transit altogether for now, not every Angeleno can make that choice. They need public transit to run errands or get to work.

To try to protect themselves, some riders are wearing masks. Some say if the train or bus is really crowded, they’ll wait for the next one. 

Cynthia Pearson commutes into downtown LA every single day. She doesn’t own a car. 

“I can’t say I’m not nervous. I’ve been more conscious than ever of how many things I touch during the day, and how many things therefore other people touch in the day. Anytime somebody on the other side of a train or a bus coughs, I think, ‘Ooh no!’ But … this is how I get around Los Angeles, so [I’m] just trying to be very aware and wash my hands all the time,” she says.

On the other hand, a lot of public transit riders are taking the coronavirus in stride, such as Luis Clemente Ferias. He says he hasn’t driven in more than two years and rides public transit everywhere, but he’s not fazed by the virus at all.

He says he doesn’t believe that the coronavirus is as deadly as the news makes it out to be, and that it’s just like another flu or cold. All the coronavirus is doing, he says, is causing people to panic unnecessarily. 

But Pearson says it’s not just the coronavirus she’s worried about: “I do hope that the sanitation/disinfecting schedule is amped up because I’m sure you’ve gotten onto a train that doesn’t seem like it’s been cleaned in some time, so I hope that will be addressed.”

Credits

Guest:
Kenneth Hernandez - Chief Risk, Safety and Asset Manager for Metro

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel, Rebecca Mooney

Reporter:
Danielle Chiriguayo