Two studies correlate increased COVID-19 risk with transit use

June 30, 2020

Two studies cited in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal contend that transit use can result in significantly increased risk of exposure to and contraction of COVID-19, or coronavirus.

One of the studies, conducted by John McLaren, a researcher at the University of Virginia, found that this increased risk brings with it a distinct racial disparity, due to the fact that African Americans, according to census figures, use public transit almost three times as much as whites. This heavier reliance on public transportation can be sourced to more African Americans having jobs that require their physical presence and an overall lower income bracket, precluding them from having access to personal vehicles or the ability to employ transportation network providers, such as Uber and Lyft.

Critics of these studies, however, have cited both first-hand experiential information and statistical concerns.

A report from a local Washington NBC affiliate says that Washington Metro officials question the validity of the reports, as they have not experienced a single death from a frontline bus or train operator on their service system—the bulk of whom are African American.

Gordon Chaffin, a reporter with, further questioned the studies’ results, telling NBC News: “The data used here have ‘low external validity.’ They describe a limited set of local factors that are not wise to generalize.”

As areas of the nation continue to reopen, public transit safety has become a crucial issue in myriad communities. The New York City Transit Authority has begun the process of closing various stations for deep cleaning at certain times of evening, and cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle have put plans in place to mitigate COVID-19 exposure risk. Nonetheless, the number of people who depend on public transit in order to earn their living is not going down or going away.

Photo: AdobeStock_71531621

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