In a move that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called "unprecedented," the New York City subway system will begin halting service every night from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so that trains can be disinfected.

Cuomo announced the decision on Thursday, saying the new policy was needed to help keep essential workers who rely on the city's subway system safe from the coronavirus. The effort will begin on Wednesday, May 6.

"It is a massive undertaking that we have never done before," Cuomo said.

The city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the largest transit system in the United States. Previously, it had been cleaning its trains every 72 hours in response to the coronavirus.

The crisis has decimated subway traffic in New York, with ridership down more than 90%, according to city officials, as residents observe lockdown measures. An estimated 11,000 riders have been traveling the subway during the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. window.

Cuomo said the undertaking will be a joint effort between the MTA and city and state officials. Cuomo added that essential workers will be able to take alternative transportation at no cost, including buses and "for-hire vehicles."

"We have a greater need than ever to disinfect the subways, the buses, and the stations," Cuomo said. "You want to honor the essential workers, [saying] 'We'll fly airplanes, we'll have public demonstrations.' Even better than that is what you do and how you act."

New York has reported more than 23,ooo deaths from the coronavirus, more than any other state in the nation. The city has reported more than 162,000 cases and nearly 18,000 confirmed or probable deaths from COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit