For COVID-19-safe restrooms, the public needs redesign and new cleaning and sanitation safety protocols
When we travel, COVID-19-safe restrooms in museums, restaurants, stations, rest stops, shops, airports, attractions, etc., are essential to our well-being. They are as indispensable as food and drink.
In her 2008 Memorandum to the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee of the British Parliament, Clara Greed, Professor of Inclusive Urban Planning, wrote about the importance of public toilets and discussed the very real problem of the “bladder leash.” I think everyone understands what that is. Women and seniors definitely know how “bladder leash” can control almost any journey.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, public restroom sanitation will be critical to the world fully reopening. A lack of public lavatory safety will seriously stymie travel by an already worried world population.
Public COVID-19-safe restrooms depend on COVID-19 surface viability
Authorities, the hospitality industry, and others who own and maintain public restrooms must listen to scientists. They are concerned about COVID-19 virus viability on lavatory surfaces. Scientists found that COVID-19 was viable on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours, stainless steel for up to 48 hours, copper for up to four hours, and cardboard/paper for up to 24 hours.
Restrooms have many high-touch surfaces. Think about all the things one touches when entering a restroom. First, you push the door to enter the restroom, then touch stall doors, handles, and locks, Many users touch stall walls, toilet paper, and roller holders. Then they touch flush handles, faucet handles, dryer buttons, and more.
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COVID-19-safe restrooms are particularly problematic due to virus viability on toilet seats and flushing aerosolization
There are also other infection risks. Restroom toilets have special problems. The COVID-19 virus can potentially remain viable on the toilet’s hard plastic seat surface for up to 72 hours. Few public toilets have lids. Studies indicate it’s possible that for 90 minutes after flushing, if there is no lid or if it’s up, the level of infection in a lavatory toilet stall may be very high due to the water droplets that are aerosolized during flushing.
The COVID-19 transfer risk in lavatories can be particularly high if you’re immediately following an infected person into the restroom. The risk can last as long as three days, according to the surface you touch, if it hasn’t been sanitized.
At this time, more research is needed to determine if a person infected with COVID-19 releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus. Even if it’s only a fragmented virus, we know that bacteria from feces can be spread around the stall via toilet flushing aerosolization.
Another high risk in public restrooms is from air jet hand driers. A study presented at the European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases found that jet hand driers were far more likely to allow the transfer of bacteria, and by extrapolation COVID-19, than paper towels. Also in the study, the contaminated surfaces were found to have ten times higher contamination than contaminated surfaces after drying with paper towels.
To have COVID-19-safe restrooms owners need to upgrade doors, toilets, urinals, sinks and hand drying equipment, etc.
I have suggestions for those providing public lavatories to make them safer.
Doors should be able to be open hands-free. If automatic sensors can’t be used, at least double action spring hinges should be installed to allow doors to be opened by pushing in with an elbow or foot.
Install toilet lids on all toilets to minimize flushing aerosols from escaping on to stall surfaces. Self-cleaning toilets should replace current toilets or a self-cleaning system should be added to existing toilets. Flushing should be touchless and only when the toilet lid is down.
Toilet paper dispensers that don’t cover toilet paper rolls should be replaced with ones that cover the roll ,minimizing its contamination from flushing and use.
Public COVID-19-safe restrooms need urinals to be spaced much farther apart than is standard today
While toilet stalls have natural barriers between people, urinals for men have been typically installed to cram in as many as possible. When multiple units are used, men are generally shoulder to shoulder. They need to be fu]arther apart (social distancing). The number of urinals installed should be half or less than current standards.
Touchless faucets and soap dispensers should replace standard faucets and dispensers.
All jet hand driers should be removed immediately. They should be replaced with motion-activated paper towel dispensers.
Walls, ceiling, and floors:
The walls, ceiling, and floors should be designed to maintain lavatory cleanliness and sanitation. They must be easily kept clean and sanitized. Wood, carpeting, and rugs must go. Flooring and walls that have crevices or is easily cracked can’t be used, as they can trap contamination.
Sanitizing public lavatories must take place frequently and thoroughly with approved products for public lavatory safety
Cleaning and sanitizing:
Clean and sanitize bathrooms at least hourly. Use only approved cleaning/sanitizing products. Newly designed self-cleaning/sanitizing restrooms clean themselves after each use. They are expensive, however, they should be considered when possible.
Use public lavatories with caution. Touch as little of the restroom as possible. When opening doors, stalls, etc., use an alcohol wipe rather than directly using your hands. Wipe down the toilet seat with an alcohol wipe before sitting on it. Close the toilet lid before the flush. Bring your own travel toilet paper. When exiting, use a paper towel to open the door. Use common sense to stay safe.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.