The most unanswered question tourists ask today -— Where is the restroom?
Finding a place to go to the bathroom has always been a problem for tourists. For years fast-food restaurants and coffee houses were the only places with public restrooms. And, today, many McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Burger King, Peet’s, and more are not all open to the public during the uncertainty of the pandemic. Regular restaurants are closed in many cities and states, except for take-out. And that means far fewer toilets for the traveling public.
Brent Williams makes his daily deliveries around the city and he runs into one persistent problem, according to a Pew Research post: “There’s almost nowhere to use the restroom. Most public buildings are closed under the pandemic. Restaurants and coffee shops that have shifted to carryout service won’t let him use their facilities.”
It’s hard to find any place where tourists can use the restroom, not to mention delivery drivers and the homeless.
We all have to go — daddy after his morning coffee, pregnant women, small children
Finding public restrooms was a challenge before the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding a clean restroom was even a greater challenge. Women have perfected the ability to hover over toilet bowls. This means they never touch the toilet itself. However, their aim is not always perfect. We all know how notoriously bad male aim is when relieving themselves.
We are instructed not to touch anything or as little as possible whenever having to use strange bathrooms while traveling. Now, new studies claim that flushing a toilet causes a plume of germs into the air. So, now we are told to wait at least a minute to let the germs settle prior to using the facilities.
…a new study underscores the potential risk, showing how flushing a toilet can send plumes of germs into the air. While the World Health Organization has said the risk of contracting Covid-19 from fecal matter appears to be low, it noted studies that have suggested the Covid-19 virus can be excreted in feces.That’s aggravated by flushing toilets, which can send clouds of aerosolized particles circulating through the air. PSA: Always put the lid down before you flush, if there is a lid!Powerful hot-air dryers can be an issue, too. High-powered jet air dryers dispersed a virus up to 3 meters, a 2015 paper in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found.
What to do when you need to use a public bathroom during a pandemic
Consider larger bathrooms with multiple stalls because they have more air circulation.
If someone exits a bathroom stall or a single bathroom right before you, try waiting at least 60 seconds before entering — especially if the toilet seat lid is up, signifying more plume.
Skip the paper toilet seat covers. They are likely placebo — we have no idea if they offer protection from bacteria or viruses — and they could easily be contaminated with toilet plume, so touching them with your hands could be a source of infectious transmission. (They are largely absent in other countries — we never had them in Canada, where I grew up, and when I moved to the United States they seemed so prudish.)
Get out of there quickly. Chatting in bathrooms is the new smoking in bathrooms — it’s a relic of the past. If you have to open a door to exit, use hand sanitizer after you leave.
In public toilets, flushing is not the most important COVID-19 risk
National Geographic researchers and photographers use questionable toilets around the developing world. They say person-to-person contact is the main disease transmission means.
“Using a public restroom, especially while taking precautions like maintaining physical distance from others and practicing good hand hygiene, is quite likely to be less risky than attending a gathering with people from other households.” That is the claim of E. Susan Amirian, a molecular epidemiologist at Rice University in Houston. She emphasizes that “the major mode of transmission for COVID-19 is person-to-person through respiratory droplets.”
Airplane bathrooms are some of the worst, according to many travelers. On a long flight, they may go a long time without cleaning. They’re also cramped and the turbulence may lead to water or urine spray. However, new disinfectants can be used regularly during flights. And planes are now cleaned more than ever and the cabin air is changed every three or four minutes. Most experts feel that airplane bathrooms are no worse than any other public toilet. Just be careful and wash your hands.
Some also say that passengers sitting in the aisle seat are in more danger. They may be infected by an unwell passenger as they make their way down the aisle to the bathroom and back. However, this has been a problem with or without the pandemic.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.