Are public restrooms best avoided during the pandemic?

Infection and Spread Staying Safe

Q: Are public restrooms best avoided during the pandemic, or are there truly safe ways to use them where ventilation is concerned?

TL;DR. Public bathrooms may present a higher COVID-19 risk than some other public spaces. We provide some tips on how to reduce this risk.

As we’ve noted in other posts, bathrooms can carry risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. One concern is that a toilet flush can create a toilet plume that releases viral matter into the air. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be afraid of your own flushes – it’s the flushes of people before you that may be an issue. While recent research has questioned whether the aerosolized droplets from fecal matter are infectious, public bathrooms are often small and poorly ventilated which give reason for taking caution.

Here are some practical tips to help keep your bathroom trips safe:

1.) Plan your bathroom use in advance – if you can avoid trips to public restrooms, that’s probably the safest bet for now, especially if you are going to have anxiety about it. But if you do need to visit a public restroom, there are ways to do so safely.

2.) Among public bathroom options, look for the following characteristics: fewer users, uncrowded times of day, more ventilation, covered toilets, and regular cleaning. If you have no choice on which public bathroom to use or when to use it, stick with the remaining following suggestions.

3.) Wait your turn. If there’s a line or a bunch of bathroom users, wait outside and enter one or two users at a time (clustering by household is fine).

4.) Wear a well-fitted mask (or two) as you enter the restroom, and don’t touch your mask or take it off until you are in a low-risk environment.

5.) Keep your visit short.

6.) Minimize contact with surfaces in the bathroom. Pay attention not to touch your face or phone during the visit.

7.) As usual, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Dry your hands with paper towels instead of a hot air blower.

8.) Also, a tip that can’t be repeated enough: Get vaccinated. If you live in the US, click here to find an available vaccine appointment near you.

Prior Dear Pandemic Posts on Toilet Plumes and Bathroom Safety:

What is a toilet plume?

What if someone needs to use my bathroom, is it okay to let them?

Other Resources:

Harvard Health Publishing


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