Revisiting Restroom Safety In A Pandemic
These days many people are concerned about restroom safety in a pandemic. It’s been almost two years since the pandemic started. In that time our knowledge of the virus has improved. With what we know today, are public restrooms safe enough to use?
What causes viral spread?
In the early days, it was believed that touching infected surfaces played a big role in the spread of the virus. While this is still true to an extent, it is now the widely held view that the biggest culprit of transmission is through the air from people being close to other people. This is particularly true indoors (lack of airflow), with long exposure times, and in conversational environments, since we spray little droplets at each other as we talk.
Where does the virus spread most often?
Most people would probably assume restrooms are the worst place, since our intuitions associate restrooms with bacteria and general uncleanliness. Scientists have been able to retrace infections, yet have surprisingly found very few with restroom origins. Instead, it’s bars and restaurants that are the leading culprits. While this might be intuitively surprising, if you look at the two situations scientifically, it makes complete sense.
Restaurants and bars tend to be places where people relax making it easy to forget about the danger of the virus. They are often in close proximity, unmasked, indoors, spraying droplets from conversations and doing so for long periods of time, resulting in massive viral exposure.
By contrast, restrooms have a couple of things going for them. The first is that you can wash your hands in a restroom. The second is that people probably won’t be in a restroom very long, while also avoiding close proximity to others, thus resulting in low exposure. As long as you wear a mask, wash your hands, and leave your copy of War and Peace in the car, you should be just fine.
With that said, restrooms aren’t completely safe zones. They are indoors and often have restricted airflow. When toilets flush they eject little droplets in the air (some scientists say it’s not likely to be a threat at all, while others say the data is inconclusive and can’t be ruled out, but are quick to mention that the danger is theoretical at most). It’s best to use a restroom with an open door or window for airflow and to get out as quickly as you can manage (though be sure to wash your hands).
Are people avoiding public restrooms because of restroom safety in a pandemic?
At the end of the day, you can avoid going to a bar or restaurant, but you can’t always avoid going to the bathroom. It’s not too surprising then that a survey by Bradley Corp. found that just 13% of Americans said they have completely avoided using a public restroom, compared to 50% who have reported no change in usage.
Another poll by Enviro-Master of Tulsa reports that 46 percent of people are using public restrooms less during the pandemic with one in three people have turned around and left because a restroom didn’t look clean enough.
So in general it seems that the public is somewhat wary of restroom safety in a pandemic, but not to a huge extent.
How can you make your public restroom as safe as possible?
Air ventilation is key as the virus thrives in indoor areas that lack it. This can be achieved by keeping regular airflow from a propped open door, or several open windows, though environmental conditions might make this approach less than ideal. A restroom from Green Flush can be designed with ample ventilation that works best for each environment.
The sink is the “epicenter” of germs in the restroom. Therefore it’s important to make sure this area is as sanitary as possible with regular cleaning to the sink and surrounding areas. If you are already cleaning your restrooms on a consistent schedule then you can carry on, we only mention this because it is more important than ever to do so.
Another option that is becoming popular is the “all-in-one” sink: which acts as a soap dispenser, water faucet, and air dryer (all three features are hands-free). This is touted for keeping the contamination area minimized (no dripping hands-on the counter or floor). Having a hand sanitizer dispenser available in case the soap runs out is a good idea.
If you are looking for a cleaning guide, you can follow the steps found on the CDC website.
Lastly, you can also encourage mask-wearing and hand-washing with signage. The reason handwashing is important is that soap breaks down the membrane of covid-19 when used with water. Encourage visitors to avoid crowds and to make any indoor trip a quick one.