Maintaining Public Restrooms in a Pandemic
The safety of visitors is the top priority of every public place, and yet in the era of coronavirus the meaning of safety has evolved. An invisible threat has led to the temporary shuttering of many public places, and in particular many people will experience fear or anxiety using a public restroom. We think this fear is exaggerated, but regardless it’s important to protect visitors the best we can. Here is what you can do to best protect those who use your restrooms:
Tape off or cover over some fixtures to create greater separation between users
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has broadly recommended people keeping a distance of 6 feet from all others at all times when possible. Unfortunately, restrooms were not designed with this kind of distancing in mind. Sinks and urinals are generally about half that distance away from each other.
By taping every other sink or urinal off, it sends a very clear message for users to avoid them.
Emphasize paper towels over hand dryers
It is believed that covid-19 spreads primarily through tiny water droplets expelled through the breath of infected individuals. Hand driers produce high speed turbulence which could hypothetically keep these droplets suspended in the air indefinitely, keeping the air within the restroom unsafe.
Some have claimed that this increases viral load into breathable air, but there appears to be no study linking COVID cases with hand dryers. Both the CDC and WHO approve of hand dryers. It’s safe to assume those organizations value hand drying over any real or hypothetical theats from hand dryers.
Unlike hand dryers, paper towels are not controversial. There are maintenance drawbacks with the waste and restocking, but the only potential health risk is if the paper towels run out. Additionally, paper towels are also great because they can be used to open the door afterwards.
Install a touchless hand sanitizer dispenser
Unless your maintenance crew is hyper-vigilant, odds are your soap dispenser will run on empty and stay empty for a while. With no soap, visitors would potentially have no way to disinfect their hands before leaving. Having a hand sanitizer dispenser provides a second layer of protection to help insure that there is always a way for visitors to stay clean and protected.
And because hand sanitizer does not need to be washed off your hands like soap is, visitors can take a dab and apply it after touching the door upon exiting.
Frequently refill soap and hand-sanitizer dispensers
Even before covid this was general good advice for giving visitors a positive restroom experience, but it’s of obvious extra importance in the current time we are going through. People are washing their hands at higher rates than before, so expect these supplies to need more frequent maintenance than in years past. There will even be people going into your restroom JUST to wash their hands and nothing else! This is one of the simpler yet more critical things you can do to make your restroom safer.
Even with hand driers disabled, you should still expect the air of a public restroom to contain some water droplets that could potentially be harmful. Introducing outside air into the restroom space through ventilation can remove airborne droplets quickly. This the easiest and most effective way to reduce airborne transmission of pathogens. Therefore, make sure that you have open windows and vents in the restroom. If you have a bathroom fan it should be set to run continuously.
Disinfect fixture handles and buttons frequently
Transmission of coronavirus may come from touching common surfaces that an infected person had previously touched. We recommend frequent disinfection of any permanent surface a visitor might touch with their hands, particularly the door handles to the stalls and entry door.
Keep the entry door open (or remove it completely)
Anything you can reasonably do to reduce contact with surfaces will help reduce the risk of transmission. Door hardware may be the highest risk surface in a restroom. Consider keeping the front door open. Having the door open will also greatly increase air ventilation.
For outdoor restrooms we recommend having a privacy screen in front of the entrance so as to maintain privacy with an open door.
Replace existing fixtures with hands-free activators
This could include toilets, urinals, faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, and sanitizing liquid dispensers. Typically these are battery operated and some are relatively easy to install.
Adding lids to the toilet seats?
This suggestion is being widely suggested due to concerns that the flushing of toilets causes a flume of toilet water to be ejected out of the toilet onto adjacent surfaces. Although toilet seat lids may make your users feel safer, it is not well established that it will reduce exposure as closing a the toilet seat lid means touching a surface that is covered with microbes. There is no evidence to date that coronavirus can be spread through fecal exposure.
It’s best to find ways to keep your visitors at safe distances while minimizing their need to touch things and maximizing the air flow and access to hand sanitation. If precautions are taken, users should feel reasonably safe using public restrooms.