By Jan Carabeo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you take SEPTA, be sure to check the schedule before heading out as major changes took effect overnight to protect riders and employees from the coronavirus. Eyewitness News was at SEPTA’s Regional Rail Station in Manayunk, which is one of several stations now closed.

SEPTA is calling the change its “Lifeline Service Schedule.” It goes into effect Thursday and that means the Manayunk Station is now closed.

The Lifeline Service Schedule is meant for essential travel only.

SEPTA is cutting way back on their transportation services in order to keep passengers and employees safe from COVID-19.

One of the largest mass transit systems in the country is cutting its service roughly in half.

The Lifeline Service Schedule closes more than 18 subway stations, bus and trolley service is limited to 60 core routes, regional rail service is suspected on six lines and two others are shortened.

And everything that remains open is strictly for essential travel, like going to the grocery store, pharmacy or hospital.

“Everyone else, we’re asking you to stay home,” SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards said. “Because in order for us to provide room for customers, operators and workers to travel safely, we only want those that need us to be on our system now.”

SEPTA police will engage customers to ensure they’re traveling for essential purposes.

And Richards also says starting today, all riders will have to wear some sort of face-covering while on the system.

“We are going to enforce,” Richards said. “Not only can an operator of a vehicle refuse a rider who doesn’t have a mask on, we will also have members of our transit police making sure.”

SEPTA has started issuing masks to all frontline employees as well, including drivers and cashiers.

The transit agency is facing workforce shortages due to COVID-19-related absences.

And after three confirmed SEPTA employee deaths due to the virus, many employees, like Michael Bente, wish SEPTA would have been more proactive with personal protective equipment when the outbreak started.

He’s been out of work for two weeks now.

“The first couple of weeks, it was let’s just wait and see. Cross our fingers, hopefully this will go away,” Bente said. “It’s kind of a little too late. The virus is here. It’s already been spread.”

Richards says the frontline employees are “truly heroes.”

She understands the employees’ concerns but hopes this reduction in service helps limit the spread of COVID-19.

“This reduced schedule is to protect our customers but also to protect our employees just as much,” Richard says.

There are a lot of changes, for more information click here.