ARE WASHROOM SERVICES SAFE DURING CORONAVIRUS
As lockdown begins to ease, many of us are out and about, whether it’s to the beach, for a walk with friends or to a non-essential shop for the first time in months. And along with all the other considerations that we must take into account when leaving the house, one of the most important questions on people’s minds is whether or not public toilets will be safe or hygienic to use whilst we are still in the midst of a pandemic.
You can never be sure as to the cleanliness or a public bathroom and as a rule, experts are highly recommending that people refrain from using a public toilet wherever they can and instead, adopt the attitude of “go before you leave the house.”
However, for some, this simply will not be realistic. Certain essential jobs, such as transportation, make it necessary to use the facilities at service stations and other road stops whether they want to or not. People out with small children or those with bladder health problems might also find it difficult to stick to using the bathroom only in their own home. After all, when nature calls, not even a pandemic will be able to stop it.
In these situations, it is vital that we are aware of the risks when entering and using a public toilet and how we can protect not only ourselves, but also others when that need arises.
Social distancing in washrooms
Even before coronavirus, wishing for an empty toilet has always been on most people’s minds when using a facility. These days, however, we may need to be far pickier with where we do our business if we’re to keep ourselves safe. With some pubs and restaurants opening across the country very soon, we need to be mindful of social distancing, not just when we’re spending money at the bar, but also when we’re spending a penny.
When it comes to bars, many of which are old and small to begin with, the public toilets are even more so. Some may only have a couple of sinks, stalls or urinals to speak of and during the summer when crowds are at their biggest, there may even be queues. If you have the luxury of choosing a different facility nearby that is less crowded, then this is a much safer alternative than risking brushing shoulders and hands with strangers during this time.
However, if you cannot wait or there is no suitable alternative, then at least be mindful of wearing a mask to protect those around you. Be sure to also check to see whether others in the bathroom are wearing a mask, as this will help to protect you should they be carrying the virus. If they are not, it may be worth judging how much you need to go and if it may be safer to come back later.
Some public facilities have already taken to blocking off sinks to enforce social distancing, but if they have not, then it is important you take the initiative yourself and keep that two meter distance at all times. If you are using a urinal where social distancing is not possible, consider waiting or using a stall instead if one is available.
Are washrooms well ventilated?
Washrooms, as a rule, should always be well ventilated in order to comply with good standards of hygiene. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in reality, especially if a washroom is built in a small, cramped space with room for only a tiny window. This only helps germs and viral particles to linger.
Hot air dryers also can contribute to this issue, especially when the washroom is small. A 2015 study found that powerful air dryers could disperse virus particles to up to 3 meters. Even if you can avoid touching surfaces whilst using the facilities, if someone is using an air dryer whilst in the same room as you, you are immediately at risk.
That’s why it is vital to stick to hand towels as opposed to dryers if you find yourself in a public toilet to protect yourself. Make sure that you are mindful of others; by keeping your social distance where possible, you are much better able to protect yourself against other people’s use of hand dryers if they have not already been blocked off.
Being mindful of surfaces in public washrooms
For those who practise meticulous washroom hygiene, being mindful of high touch surfaces in public will be nothing out of the ordinary. During a pandemic, however, it is vital that we all change our habits when visiting public spaces and especially somewhere as high risk as a washroom. Coronavirus is able to live on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to days, meaning that surfaces in public toilets will constantly be a risk, no matter how often they are cleaned.
And unlike spaces such as grocery stores and shops which also have countless high touch surfaces, washrooms are unique in the fact that they already pose a hygiene risk by the nature of what they’re used for and by a large number of people. Recent studies have even shown that COVID-19 can be found in faecal matter and that flushing an open toilet can send viral and bacterial particles into the air and surfaces around us.
The only way to adequately project ourselves is by ensuring we come into contact with as few surfaces as possible by wearing disposable gloves and disposing of them safely and hygienically (using a clean plastic bag to remove them should be sufficient). Practising basic washroom hygiene should also be a priority for everyone, which includes flushing toilets with the lid down, as well as thorough handwashing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Even if you are wearing disposable gloves, hand washing is still essential and necessary in killing a virus.
It is easy to forget that we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic with summer on its way and some aspects of real-life slowly making their way back to the surface. But experts remind us to be extremely mindful in high-risk spaces such as washrooms, as well as in any common space. Regular life simply cannot go back to how it was 6 months ago, even as lockdown eases. Recognising that some spaces will require us to change our behaviour for the long term is all part of that process. When it comes to washrooms, our hygiene habits should be improved and maintained even long after social distancing is a thing of the past.
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