Well, here's some good news. While you definitely should practice safe habits in a high traffic areas such as a public bathroom, those habits are pretty straightforward. They're things worth practicing whether you're trying to navigate a pandemic where germs are a major concern, or you're trying to navigate the godless realm of a Taco Bell bathroom. Below, Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Files, has some advice on how to using a public bathroom during coronavirus.
How to use a public bathroom safely during coronavirus
1. Wear a face mask
Masks. They're wonderful friends! Supportive friends! Friends that want the best for you! They're maybe lightly annoying friends, like friends who think that liking The Office is a personality trait, but ultimately they're friends you want to keep around. This especially pertains to when the bathroom line is long.
"If you are going into a restroom with a high turnover, wear a mask," says Tetro. "It can be hard to keep that six feet distance so it’s best to be safe."
2. If possible, truly hold out until someone else is finished
Okay, let's say that you're now diligent about closing the lid when you flush to avoid toilet plumes. The trouble is that you don't know if the people in the other stalls are taking the same safety precautions. Double that for the person who was in the stall prior.
"Wait at least 30 to 45 seconds after someone has flushed to go into the stall," says Tetro. "This will allow the droplets to fall to the ground. If you are in a rush, hold your breath for that time if you are not using a mask."
3. Close the lid when you flush
If you haven't heard about toilet plumes yet, sorry in advance for ruining your day. Toilet plumes are essentially what happens when you flush a toilet. Everything that comes out of that toilet—and we mean everything—gets aerosolized. This includes fecal matter and applies to pathogens like Shigella, E. coli, and C. difficile, but it's been proven to be a truly awful way of spreading COVID-19.
Thankfully the best way to stop it is an easy one: close the lid before you go, so that toilet plume is trapped within the bowl. No lid? Well, keep that mask on, baby!
4. Wash your hands, but not just after you go to the bathroom
While it seems like there's a whole song and dance when it comes to using a public bathroom during coronavirus, the truth is that it spreads about the same in the bathroom as most viruses. The rules, therefore, ultimately revolve around the concept we first learned when it comes to COVID safety, and that we should've (emphasis on should've) learned when it came to learning bathroom hygiene: wash your hands.
"Make sure to wash your hands or use alcohol based hand sanitizer to keep your hands safe," says Tetro. "Repeat again if you happen to be touching a doorknob or handle."
And if that all sounds too exhaustive, well, there's always adult diapers.
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