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Metro moves to 'Phase 2' in coronavirus preparations

Metro's Pandemic Task Force will move to "Phase 2" of its response plans, which includes targeted hand sanitizer deployment and employee absence monitoring.

WASHINGTON — With the first confirmed cases of novel coronavirus confirmed just outside the nation’s capital, Washington’s Metro system told employees Friday it will move to a heightened phase of coronavirus preparations.

The move announced by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld will include the expanded monitoring of employee absence trends, in order to identify potential areas of future infection from the virus.

RELATED: 3 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus reported in Montgomery County, Md.

The transit system’s Pandemic Task Force will move in to "Phase 2" of its response plans, "which includes targeted deployment of hand sanitizer supplies to frontline employees."

WMATA will also engage in more frequent communications with customers and employees about its preparations and will suspend all non-essential business travel.

Facts Not Fear: Check complete Coronavirus coverage here

"The task force is working to develop contingency plans should we need to escalate to Phase 3," Mr. Wiedefeld wrote. "Meanwhile, rest assured that Metro is absolutely focused on decisions about service schedules and policies that make the health and safety of our employees and customers our priority." 

The Pandemic Task Force has four phases in total. 

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The actions mirror steps taken in New York City earlier in the week, with teams throughout the system disinfecting turnstiles, seats and machines.

Mr. Wiedefeld said the actions and preparations were being made in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"I will not hesitate to direct additional steps to keep you—and our customers—safe, if warranted by conditions or guidance from public health experts," the letter concludes.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced three people in Montgomery County tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a married couple in their 70s and a woman in her 50s.

The three are currently in isolation at their homes, and their conditions are improving, Gov. Hogan said.

The patients returned from international travel on a cruise Feb. 20, with the CDC notifying Maryland health officials that the Montgomery residents were at risk for coronavirus infection during their trip together.

Officials would not disclose in a news conference from where the three people returned, or which local airport they traveled through. 

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