Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mitigating the spread of Covid-19 on board trains


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ONE recent study at a Florida Hospital found that the Covid-19 virus could be isolated from air samples of up to 4.8 meters from infected patients. Matthais Echternach, head of phoniatrics and pediatric audiology at Ludwig-Maximilians University Hospital, Munich, agrees that perhaps the most effective way to use a face shield is to wear a mask underneath it. Just wearing a face shield is not going to be very protective. The tighter the mask underneath, the better, adding that gaps can cause aerosols to escape and get in even with tight-fitting masks and wisps of facial hair around the seal. Hence, the LRT 2 system added wearing a face shield apart from a face mask as a requirement for those riding a train.

In the article “Covid-19: How to travel safely on the bus, train and subway” (Sept. 7, 2020), Richard Fisher noted that “ventilation and airflow matter.” With Covid-19, the more people talking into the same air as you in a confined space, the more chance there is of infection. Nick Tyler, from University College London, who modeled the way the virus propagates through buses says that if traveling by train, bus or subway, one factor to consider is how well the system is ventilated. Outside, droplets are dissipated in the air and wind but once you are inside, you get much less movement.

As regards the LRT 2, train air conditioning systems were adjusted to provide enhanced airflow and proper ventilation while maintaining relative humidity at about 40 percent. Further, the regular cleaning schedule of ACUs has been increased to ensure fresh and clean air.

Lastly, in his article, Fisher said that “silence is golden. When assessing one’s chosen form of transport, it is worth considering how much talking goes on inside and how loudly.” People in noisy environments are at higher risk of infection than those in quieter spaces. As such, inside LRT 2 trains, the “No talking” policy is strictly implemented.

Thus, with the implementation of the aforesaid measures, i.e., the physical distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks and face shields, adjustment of ventilation system and implementation of “No talking” policy, the riding public is assured of a safe and worry-free daily train ride.

Complementary to these measures and based on studies that Covid-19 remains infectious from hours to days on different types of surfaces, frequent cleaning of hands and disinfection of highly touched surfaces is highly recommended.

At LRT 2, alcohol dispensers are available near toilets for hand sanitation while careful disinfection of high-touch contact areas inside trains, including the handrails, is done after every train journey. No train leaves the station without having undergone prior cleaning. The fleet of trains is subject to the usual cleaning schedule with additional interventions that guarantee the highest standards of disinfection.

Almost eight months from the onset of this pandemic, solid evidence on the risk of Covid-19 transmission in public transportation is still limited with the continued adoption of various preventive measures.

Researchers who looked at 172 studies from 16 countries and six continents in the study published in The Lancet journal found that with physical distancing, the chance of transmission at a distance of less than 1 meter was 12.8 percent and 2.6 percent at a distance of more than 1 meter. If without face masks, the chance of transmission was 17.4 percent and with a face mask, it was only 3.1 percent. Similarly, the chance of transmission without eye protection was at 16 percent compared to 5.5 percent with some form of eye protection like a face shield.

Simply put, staying 1-meter away from other people reduces your chance of catching Covid-19 by more than 80 percent. Wearing a face mask or covering reduces your risk by more than 85 percent and wearing a face shield reduces transmission by about 78 percent. Nonetheless, even when properly used and combined, distancing, face masks and eye protection do not offer complete protection. Other basic measures such as respiratory etiquette, proper hand hygiene and disinfection are essential to mitigate transmission.

In conclusion, these measures are all put in place to alleviate the spread of Covid-19. These measures are backed by scientific studies and research and are deliberated upon prior to implementation. As the pandemic goes on, the LRT 2 and the rest of the rail sector remains steadfast about ensuring safe daily travel for its passengers. Always remember, clean your hands often by using soap/water or 70 percent alcohol. Maintain social distancing and always wear a mask/shield. Wishing everyone a safe and better year in 2021.

Paul Chua PhD is deputy administrator for operations and engineering at the Light Rail Transit Authority. He was a scholar in transport planning at the Galilee International Management Institute in Israel, and “Smart Cities looks like” at Gran Sasso Science Institute in Italy. He finished an executive education program on “Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies” at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The LRTA Covid-19 task group is led by Annabelle Ganancia and composed of Wilfredo Bongcaron, Ricardo Buhay, Ferdinand Marcos, Elizabeth Gomez and Leomarie Obias.



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