How To Limit COVID-19 Exposure in Public Restrooms

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As Long Islanders head outdoors to make the most of summer while social distancing, New York State officials have a few suggestions for avoiding coronavirus in public restrooms.

Not only is personal hygiene, such as diligent hand washing, important to limit transmission, but one should be careful when flushing public restroom toilets as well. 

“The virus can spread through fecal contamination and you should keep the lid down,” Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State Commissioner for Health told reporters last week.

A recent study from Yangzhou University in China suggests that when fecal matter is flushed, particles containing the live virus can become “aerosolized” in the toilet plume, or spray. Closing the lid on a public toilet can reduce release of the plume into the surrounding air and limit transmission.

However, this recommendation may not help in many public restrooms that feature lidless toilets.

The question of lidless toilets left Gov. Andrew Cuomo “stumped” for the first time since the pandemic began. 

“If you have a lidless toilet, what do you do? I really feel ashamed. I don’t even know where to start with this question,” he said, before passing the question to Dr. Zucker.

Zucker recommended social distancing in restrooms as a way to shield oneself from possible spray from lidless toilet flushing.

“People are suggesting if someone is in one stall, not to use the next stall, to go over to the next stall, for those lidless toilets,” he said.

Single-stall restrooms are also a good socially-distant option. Bathrooms that are not well-ventilated may also keep viral particles lingering for longer and should be avoided as much as possible.

Personal hygiene remains of utmost importance when it comes to public restrooms. Though U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend all public restrooms be disinfected frequently and stock plentiful soap and paper towels or hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content, facilities without running water may lack such items.

For portable restrooms, experts recommend visitors bring their own hand sanitizer.

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