Could flushing a toilet spread COVID-19?

Another new behavior to stay on top of to prevent coronavirus transmission: closing the toilet lid when you flush.

Scientists found that flushing a toilet can create a cloud of droplets containing coronavirus that will linger long enough to be inhaled. Aerosol droplets rise nearly three feet and can land on other surfaces in the restroom.

Finally reopening door to occupants after weeks of lockdown has been bittersweet enough. Being reunited with the building and all those who regularly occupy it after being apart is a relief, but at the same time facilities managers have needed to navigate the challenges of reducing the possibility for infections to spread.

Restrooms are frequently poorly ventilated spaces, which increases the risk of exposure to infection. But, researches are not yet able to determine the density of infectious virus in aerosols or if people with more severe cases of COVID-19 shed more virus than patients with milder cases.

One thing is for certain: no matter the amount of infectious virus that can be traced in the toilet plume of particles, even if there is no trace of virus found at all, it is gross. Even hanging a jacket on a hook in the bathroom stall for a few minutes while you do your business means that you could carry another person’s aerosolized particles with you.   

The research will only bring more questions like to the forefront of peoples’ minds, hopefully leading to improvements in restroom design across the U.S. Most of the public restrooms in the country today do not include lids on toilets, leaving you with no option but to let your poo-plume patter onto people.

Why don’t we include lids on toilets already?

The lid should be closed prior to triggering the flushing process. However, in restrooms with sensor flushometers, the lid may block the sensor’s ‘eye’ and people may be likely to walk out of the stall without flushing at all.

Facilities managers are left with two options: finding a combination of flushometer and lid that will pair together well or educate the building’s occupants on the importance of closing the lid prior to flushing the toilet.

The latter option may be better for everyone in the long-run. Closing the toilet lid prior to flushing does not only limit exposure to infection in public restrooms, but the habit should ideally carry over into the home as well.

“I have my toothbrush too close to the toilet,” Charles P. Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona said to the Washington Post. “I don’t want to brush my teeth with what’s in the toilet.”

Healthy habits

People should also be washing their hands frequently and thoroughly. The coronavirus has led to an increased interest in hands-free fixtures including soap dispensers, faucets, and paper towel dispensers.

In addition to making renovations to include hands-free fixtures, many building managers have implemented sanitizing stations in common areas to help promote good hygienic practices in the workplace. Remind everyone to practice social distancing wherever possible as well. But, it may not be as easy to distance yourself from another person in a smaller restroom area. Experts have recommended wearing a mask in a public restroom not only due to decreased ability for social distancing, but because of the poor ventilation.

Equipping buildings with the right tools

Experts are taking away some of the pressure to keep public toilets clean by zapping COVID-19 with indoor ultraviolet light and automated disinfectant sprays. New fixtures can also be introduced in public restrooms to help stop the spread of viruses across surfaces.

Consider CuVerro handles to increase hygiene in public restrooms while providing monetary savings compared to sensor flushometer alternatives. The handle is made with antimicrobial copper, which kills 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria continuously when cleaned regularly.

CuVerro copper is the only class of solid surface material registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Drug-resistant super bugs cannot develop a resistance to copper, and CuVerro has successfully killed superbugs like MRSA and E. Coli.

DuraGuard antimicrobial toilet seats inhibit the growth of microorganisms on their surfaces. These seats will help to increase protection on surfaces in public restrooms they will not, however, protect the seat user against bacteria and viruses. The seats must be cleaned thoroughly.

“At the end of the day, we need to remember that stool can be a reservoir for many diseases, and people sometimes don’t wash their hands as well as they think they do,” E. Susan Amirian, a molecular epidemiologist at Rice University in Houston, said to National Geographic. “Good hygiene, especially thorough hand washing, is important for reasons beyond COVID-19.”

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