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NYC subways and buses will kill coronavirus with light

Coronavirus prevention
  • New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is planning to try a novel method of coronavirus prevention — using ultraviolet light to try and kill all traces of the virus on subways and buses.
  • The installation of UV lamps will start next week. This comes as MTA ridership is down some 90% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and after President Trump controversially suggested ultraviolet light might be one way humans can fight the virus.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

A little more than a week ago now, President Trump raised eyebrows during one of his recent coronavirus press conferences in which he seemed to wonder aloud that ultraviolet and disinfectant might be worth investigating as possible treatments for people who test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. He later lied and claimed he was being sarcastic about the idea after it was pointed out that humans, you know, shouldn’t even think about drinking bleach.

That episode prompted Trump’s team to re-evaluate whether his coronavirus briefings are hurting more than helping the president at this point. Meanwhile, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is pressing forward with one of those ideas as a way to keep its subways and buses potentially free of coronavirus at a time of record-low ridership.

The New York Daily News reports that the agency plans to start using ultraviolet light as part of its stepped-up cleaning of subways and buses, in partnership with Columbia University which thinks UV light could kill diseases like the coronavirus within the transportation system. The plan is to put UV lamps inside some subway cars and buses starting next week that will emit a type of light ray called UV-C, which the paper notes is harmful to people if they get directly exposed to it.

David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, told the outlet that it’s not yet 100% certain whether the lights will be able to eradicate the virus but that it would be “inconceivable to me that it wouldn’t kill this particular virus.” This comes as New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in recent days that the city’s subways would stop running between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. every day for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement to The Verge, the MTA’s chief innovation officer Mark Dowd said the transportation authority is “exploring every solution” that scientists and the market can offer right now to ensure its subways and buses are safe for riders and employees. “The pilot project involving this proven UV technology is another example of that as we look for alternative ways to effectively reduce risk on train cars and buses.”

The hope, also, is that this convinces more riders to come back, with the MTA having seen a 90% drop in riders since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, the virus has also claimed the lives of more than 80 MTA employees in that same time span.

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Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.