COVID travel, this time, Amtrak NE Corridor
September 23, 2021 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I will take a same-day round trip via Amtrak Acela from Rt. 128 outside Boston to NYP (and then travel somehow to the UWS) for a memorial service in a couple of weeks. I'm fully vaccinated, but haven't really left my bubble or been on public transport since March 2020. Mostly Amtrak specific, but how does this work?

I believe Amtrak requires masks in stations and on trains (except when eating or drinking). I'm generally risk-averse, and given the relatively short transit time, would anticipate trying not to eat or drink during the journey. (Or is that going too far?)

Some market research here:
- Still good to wipe down everything with a disinfectant cloth?
- Is there a "better" place to sit on a train, since seats are not assigned (window vs aisle, center of car versus near the doors)?
- I don't anticipate going to a restaurant or anything in NYC (though I could get a slice of pizza to go somewhere)--do I have to bring my vaccine card? Will NYC places (including Amtrak if at all relevant) accept a photocopy or a photo on my phone? I obviously don't want to lose my precious card
- after the memorial, there will be a reception for family at someone's apartment, where I'm told everyone will be vaccinated. I have been unmasked with vaccinated parents at my kid's school, but never with anyone outside our particular neighborhood (strange to realize that only people in my school district have seen me unmasked in person in 18 months). Is there a reason to stay masked in the apartment, if we're all vaccinated?
- Am I supposed to get a Covid test before taking Amtrak? I don't think so.
- I'm inclined to walk to and from NYP to the UWS rather than take the subway or a cab (I'm from NYC, know the walk, and it will be interesting)--but if it's raining, are the subway and cabs a bad idea, Covid wise? I suppose I could theoretically take a bus, but even in Covid times it's hard for me to see myself taking the bus...

All of this seems so basic, and yet so foreign to me at this point. Amtrakkers, NYC people, fellow mourners, and Covid experts, what are the best practices here?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: COVID doesn't spread through surfaces--you can disinfect for your own comfort, but it's not going to help you COVID-wise.
posted by kingdead at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: I took a long daytime Amtrak trip from Boston to points south in August, and no one sat next to me the entire time. I was in the quiet car and we seemed to average 50% capacity.

Amtrak will make you complete a COVID precheck before your trip, but there are no vaccination or testing requirements.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:14 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I don't anticipate going to a restaurant or anything in NYC (though I could get a slice of pizza to go somewhere)--do I have to bring my vaccine card? Will NYC places (including Amtrak if at all relevant) accept a photocopy or a photo on my phone?

If you are taking food to go, or eating at the restaurant but outside (or getting delivery of course) you don't need proof of vaccination.

As for the actual proof, I haven't heard of anywhere where a photo is not accepted, though I usually use the Excelsior Pass app while in NYC since I was vaccinated in NYS -- if there is a local equivalent for MA or wherever you were vaccinated, might be worth looking into.
posted by andrewesque at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2021


Best answer: I was on Amtrak in California this week, in a single seat with no one facing me, but that may vary by train or capacity. I was able to purchase tickets and get my boarding info on the app, so minimal contact, just a QR code scan on the train.
posted by sageleaf at 11:23 AM on September 23, 2021


Best answer: I have taken AMTRAK from VT to NYC twice since things opened up. AMTRAK Needs no documentation other than your ticket and the online covid form. Expect the train to be 80% full. Walk through a couple of cars to find a space that looks away from others. I am not averse to sitting in an aisle seat and leaving my backpack in the other seat in the hopes no one will ask to sit there. Mask is mandatory except when eating or drinking, wasn't a problem for me.

I am not risk averse and go everywhere in NYC. They are asking for vac cards (phone is good as long as it matches your ID) to sit down in restaurants but not if you are ordering take-out.

I rode the subway everywhere except at rush hour, The cars were never totally full. Standing is good so you can move away from and position yourself away from those few persons who are not wearing masks. I kept a mask on for almost everything and felt comfortable at all times, even at an outdoor concert in Central Park (Patti Smith).

YMMV.
posted by Xurando at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Is there a reason to stay masked in the apartment, if we're all vaccinated?

Yes, absolutely. You should be avoiding being unmasked indoors near other people, because other people may have breakthrough cases (where vaccinated people catch COVID), and COVID transmission is much more common indoors. You should be wearing a mask and, ideally, everyone else should be, too. The breakthrough cases I've heard of -- including transmission from one vaccinated person to another -- all involved unmasked people.

If I were you I would, as much as possible, avoid eating or drinking indoors with other people. This includes on Amtrak and at an indoors reception.

The masks you wear on Amtrak, on the subway, in cabs, and indoors with other people should be N95 masks, which filter better than cloth or KN95 masks do. Here's more info on that. If you are outdoors and it is raining, the water will reduce an N95's ability to filter, so switch to a cloth or KN95 in that case.

The MTA says that air filtration/ventilation on the subway is very good. When I take the subway, I stay masked and I try to stay away from very crowded cars and from unmasked people (right now, I think mask compliance on the subway is like 60-80%).
posted by brainwane at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


Best answer: I have been riding Amtrak in and out of NYC a couple times a month for about 10 months now. I became significantly less nervous after I was fully vaccinated, and I remain so. Although it got a bit lax around June, on my line the mask requirement is strictly enforced these days. (My last three rides a few people have been escorted from the train at a stop for refusing to comply.)

The air exchange in the cars is very good (every 4-5 minutes), so I don't think there is a difference between near the doors or not. I do not bother wiping anything down, though I do wear a well-fitting N95 and don't eat or drink while onboard. When you book, you can see how full the train is. I try to avoid the nearly-full trips, but sometimes that impossible.
posted by minervous at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I very regularly take this exact route, and even did so in August for the same reason (in reverse); I went from NY Penn to Providence for a weekend trip to attend a memorial for a family member. Here's my advice.

I believe Amtrak requires masks in stations and on trains (except when eating or drinking).

This is correct. And in all stations and on the trains, as well, I saw compliance, and I saw conductors were on the job when it came to reminding people to wear masks.

I'm generally risk-averse, and given the relatively short transit time, would anticipate trying not to eat or drink during the journey. (Or is that going too far?)

I mean, your peace of mind is what it is, but that's still kind of overly-cautious. NY Penn to Providence, even on Acela, is still about 3 hours and change; at they very least you may get thirsty. I've done that trip several times and always seem to get peckish at some point. If you want to mitigate risk, maybe bring a water bottle with you so it's right there, instead of having to walk through the train to the cafe car and stand in line and buy a water bottle.

- Still good to wipe down everything with a disinfectant cloth?

I think this has generally been regarded as being unnecessary at this point.

Is there a "better" place to sit on a train, since seats are not assigned (window vs aisle, center of car versus near the doors)?

Not that I'm aware. However, the day you're traveling may affect things - I was traveling mid-to-late morning each way on my most recent trip, but each leg was on a weekday as opposed to a weekend (I traveled to Providence on a Friday morning and returned to New York on a Monday). The train was a good deal less crowded than it is when I travel on a Saturday or Sunday.

I don't anticipate going to a restaurant or anything in NYC (though I could get a slice of pizza to go somewhere)--do I have to bring my vaccine card? Will NYC places (including Amtrak if at all relevant) accept a photocopy or a photo on my phone? I obviously don't want to lose my precious card

If you're getting things to go, you don't need to show proof of vaccination. That's only if you're going to be sitting down inside.

Am I supposed to get a Covid test before taking Amtrak?

No. However, you will be sent a link to where you can pre-screen yourself - pretty much just a few yes-or-no questions with tick boxes, asking you to attest to whether you have been exposed to someone who had it within the past 14 days, whether you've ever tested positive, whether you are currently experiencing symptoms, etc. You have to complete that within the 24 hours before your trip.

I'm inclined to walk to and from NYP to the UWS rather than take the subway or a cab (I'm from NYC, know the walk, and it will be interesting)--but if it's raining, are the subway and cabs a bad idea, Covid wise?

Depends on the time of day, maybe? I'd be uneasy on the subway during rush hour, but only because of the everyone-is-jammed-together angle; the few times I've been on the subway recently it wasn't crowded at all and I felt fine. Everyone had to be masked up and everyone was largely complying. MTA attendants have started offering masks to those who "forget". As for the yellow cabs - your greatest issue with yellow cabs is in finding one. You may even want to consider getting Lyft or Uber (who do have strict Covid safety measures in place); I've been taking Lyft cars about two or three times weekly for the past year now, to and from a physical therapist's office, and have suffered no ill effects.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: * COVID precheck will be sent to you via email to fill out before trip; no need for test or to bring vaccine card for train
* You'll be expected to stay masked in the station and on the train unless eating and drinking
* No particularly superior seats (there is a single seat on Acela cars, but it's reserved for disabled people + companions)
* Ditto re: masking for subway, train, or taxi car (p.s. the bus has the higher rate of compliance vs. the subway!)
* If you want to eat indoors in NYC, you'll need proof of vaccination
* Masking in the apartment would not be unreasonable and I don't think anyone would hold it against you even if they're not masked, but maybe not strictly necessary
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I just took the Boston to NYC Amtrak on Sunday. The train was full and the conductors were not enforcing the masking rule at all (though I'd say about 80% of passengers kept their mask on anyway). I'd usually say that getting on the "quiet car" (where passengers aren't allowed to talk on the phone) is your best bet for being around mostly masked passengers, but this wasn't the case on Sunday. It usually is though!

Amtrak does not require any proof of vaccination and if you aren't going to any sit-down places you probably don't need your vaccine card for the trip.

I'm vaccinated, wear mask on places like the subway and the Amtrak, and am pretty "over it" when it comes to excessively worrying about COVID because I'm reasonably healthy and feel well protected by my vaccine. That is to say, I was not nervous on my train ride on Sunday. But if this is your big foray out of your bubble, you might find taking the Amtrak a little stressful right now.
posted by cakelite at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Oh, yes, what EmpressCallipgyos said about cabs--when I have a strict schedule, I have to take an Uber even though I really would prefer a cab. You just can't rely on one to come by within five minutes as you could in the Before Times.
posted by praemunire at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2021


Best answer: I work on public transit stuff and I take the subway or bus basically every day. NYC transit is very safe. Amtrak is very safe. If you take a cab, just open the window. I would probably wear a mask in the apartment if I were there for any amount of time; the air turnover on transit is much better than in an apartment.

(Some reading: https://www.vice.com/en/article/3aq948/you-dont-have-to-be-afraid-of-public-transit)
posted by ferret branca at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: after the memorial, there will be a reception for family at someone's apartment, where I'm told everyone will be vaccinated. I have been unmasked with vaccinated parents at my kid's school, but never with anyone outside our particular neighborhood (strange to realize that only people in my school district have seen me unmasked in person in 18 months). Is there a reason to stay masked in the apartment, if we're all vaccinated?

This strikes as as the Covid-riskiest thing in your whole plan. First, I've learned that "everyone will be vaccinated" is often wishful thinking, not because people are lying, but I think some vaccinated folks are making assumptions about others' behaviors without asking directly. Will there be unvaccinated kids there? Has the person organizing/hosting asked everyone specifically and directly and individually if they are vaccinated? I don't mean they need to see vaccine cards; I mean that you shouldn't assume if folks have not been asked directly. I would have explicit conversations about this with the organizer, asking them how they know folks' vaccination status.

Also, vaccinated folks can get and spread Covid, and meeting indoors with people without masks is how this sort of thing is happening. There's a good chance that a group of people who have been traveling will have someone amongst you who has had a recent exposure. Being in a small, poorly ventilated space (like a typical apartment) is going to facilitate spread. People tend to let their guards down with family and friends, especially if there's alcohol (or, I imagine, high emotions). I'd be more wary of the apartment than the train.

If you do go, keep your mask on. If you take your mask off, ask if all the windows can be open. If you're not comfortable with asking for this, then I'd suggest an outdoor gathering or skipping it.

If you're concerned about take out pizza, don't go inside unmasked, even with extended family.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:47 AM on September 23, 2021 [9 favorites]


Best answer: I've been on Amtrak a bunch in the last few months (Keystoner or NE Regional, but Philly to New York, not the New York to Boston leg) and have seen good mask compliance, though as always you get some people whose masks don't fit or who don't understand that it goes over the nose. Someone will likely sit with you, but as in the before times, only if they absolutely can't avoid it. I don't eat or drink on the train or inside the station but I recognize that this is probably an overabundance of caution.

This is basically what everyone else has already said, though. The only thing I'd add, and it won't make you feel better I'm afraid, is that the symptoms screening is 100% not enforced. I forget to do it almost every time and it's never been flagged, so I assume it's not for other people either. Still, between MY vaccine, MY mask, the vast majority of other people's masks, and the air turnover in the cars, I don't feel especially at risk (I don't think a symptoms screening is terribly useful anyway, since presymptomatic cases are contagious). Re: the air turnover, I agree that the apartment will likely have the least ventilation of the situations you're talking about.

The subway, likewise, is fine and the buses probably are too, I'm not sure what the problem with buses is? They're slower than the subway but faster than walking.
posted by babelfish at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: If you are outdoors and it is raining, the water will reduce an N95's ability to filter, so switch to a cloth or KN95 in that case.

KN95s are made out of substantially the same stuff as an N95, so I would not at all be confident that they would hold up any differently w/r/t getting damp. Just bring lots of extras so you can swap to a dry one.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:08 PM on September 23, 2021


Best answer: Following-up to responses regarding vaccine proof to eat in restaurants: I've been asked twice in NYC for vaccination proof to eat outdoors. Even if it's not mandated, some restaurants are still requiring it--
posted by cardamom at 12:11 PM on September 23, 2021


Best answer: Well, should you stay masked in the apartment afterwards?

Point 1: Nobody else will. It will be an indoor reception - everyone will be eating and drinking and hugging.

Point 2: Punch it into microcovid.org. Using total US (pessimistic, includes the south). A 0.7% chance of catching covid is kind of high, and keeping on a mask (crappy surgical mask) reduces this to a 0.3% chance.

Now, for me, personally, a one-time gathering of family during a funeral is worth about a 5% chance of getting vaccinated covid. So either 0.7% or 0.3% chances are both lower than that. Of course, you're cautious, but in general, your risk of transfer after the fact could be further minimized by restricting risky behavior after the fact.

I would greatly recommend asking for the apartment meeting to be moved outdoors. Or, to have as much air flow as possible. Even opening the windows, with a fan, or air purifiers, has a huge, huge impact on the transferrability. It's not talked about much, but in a world where people aren't masking anyway, having airflow / windflow greatly helps. Moving something outdoors reduce transmission by at least 20x, if not much more. If it was only a 5x reduction, opening windows is still 10 times more effective than wearing masks at reducing the spread.

Have you considered a blue bike or escooter to get from place to place?
posted by bbqturtle at 12:52 PM on September 23, 2021


Response by poster: All great answers--honestly, I've been so deep in my blasé bubble (I generally go nowhere and do nothing!) that I've forgotten many of the best practices for actually venturing out in the world.

And one of the most important clarifications--

If you're concerned about take out pizza, don't go inside unmasked, even with extended family.

I'm not worried about takeout pizza, and would appreciate suggestions for where to eat (or take out).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:52 AM on September 27, 2021


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