COVID-19 has everyone rethinking the way we do things, including using public restrooms. Now that more places are starting to re-open and people are slowly venturing out, it’s important to know if public restrooms are safe to use during the coronavirus outbreak.
What We Know
There’s been confusing information about whether you can get the coronavirus from touching surfaces, including those in the bathroom. The latest information from the CDC at the time of this writing states, “Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
This is not an invitation to go and touch everything in the bathroom. You still need to be mindful of what you touch because respiratory droplets can land on surfaces.
According to the CDC, the primary mode of transmission of the coronavirus is through close contact with another person and any respiratory droplets. That’s why it’s so important to practice social distancing, even when you’re using a public restroom.
Public Restroom Protocol
- Avoid going in when other people are there. If you notice someone going in, wait until they’re out before entering. If you can’t, try to stay 6 feet away from them.
- If someone is washing their hands, don’t use the sink right next to them. Some public restrooms are making alternating sinks inaccessible.
- Use a paper towel to open faucets and the door. Dr. Greg Poland, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic, tells Buzzfeed News that studies have shown that those surfaces harbor fecal bacteria.
No matter what you’re touching or not touching, the CDC recommends that everyone wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after being in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
Previous studies have found that only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after using the bathroom. Handwashing can help to prevent the spread of coronavirus if your hands have come in contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person and then you touch your face.
Are Hand Dryers Safe?
While the hard dryers may be favored environmentally over paper towels, Poland tells Buzzfeed News that those hand dryers blow whatever is in your hands around the bathroom and back into your face. So, when possible, reach for the paper towels and skip the hand dryer.
What About Changing Tables for Babies?
If you find yourself out in public with a baby that needs a diaper change, you can still take precautions to keep your baby safe while using changing tables. Dr. Tanya Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician, tells the New York Times that she advises parents to bring a plastic garbage bag.
Spread the garbage bag out like a clean mat and have your necessary supplies out and ready to go. When you’re done changing the diaper, roll the bag up with the dirty diaper, wipes, and gloves and throw it away. Altmann also offers alternative changing spots — outside on the grass or in the back of your car — for those uncomfortable with public restrooms.
Is the Toilet a Breeding Ground for Coronavirus?
Some people wonder if they need to put toilet paper down or a toilet seat cover before they sit on the toilet. While you certainly can if you want to, coronavirus is not spread through the skin.
Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist, and professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Zoology tells Buzzfeed News that the likelihood of the virus being transmitted through using a toilet seat is low. But, if you want to put down toilet paper or a cover if provided, it’s never a bad idea.
When it comes to flushing the toilet, some people cringe at touching the handle. Using your feet only adds to germs getting on it for the next person. Using clean toilet paper in your hand to touch the flusher is the better option.
If possible, shut the lid before flushing so no particles can go up into the air. Unfortunately, many public restrooms don’t have lids on toilets. According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in the feces of some patients. But, it’s unclear whether someone can get infected with the virus from feces.
Public Restroom Safety Summary
- Wash your hands
- Practicing social distancing inside
- Be mindful of what you touch
- Keep your face mask on while in the bathroom. This can also help prevent coming in contact with respiratory droplets.