Public restrooms are not among most people's favorite places to begin with. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, they might just become even more undesirable for three specific reasons.
To begin with, public bathrooms are not exactly models of cleanliness, so the spread of any virus in this kind of enclosed, public space is problematic. Furthermore, the enclosed spaces of public restrooms are spaces that are inherently shared with strangers. This increases the chances for germs to spread wildly. Lastly, the phenomenon known as the toilet plume makes matters even worse where COVID-19 is concerned.
Clouds of tiny particles are launched through the air every time a toilet is flushed with an open lid. This is called the toilet plume, and it's bad news when considering the spread of coronavirus. Many public restroom toilets don't even have lids, and even when they do, the majority of the time they are probably not being closed. After all, people in public bathrooms tend to try to touch as little of the toilet as possible (for good reason!).
Research from China using a computer simulation has indicated that the aerosol cloud that comes from flushing a toilet can contain droplets from a virus and showed how not closing a toilet lid can cause the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, the American Journal of Infection Control
published a study regarding the dangers of disease transmission as a result of toilet plumes. According to Dr. Qingyan Chen, closing the toilet lid before flushing can keep 80 percent of fecal particles from being spread through the air.
Urinals can also produce these aerosol particles. Physics of Fluid journal published a study that urinals too cause an alarming level of force in which urine particles, often full of viral droplets, are let loose into the air. For obvious reasons, this information is especially worrisome because of COVID-19.
If you find yourself having to use a public restroom, the National Institute of Health has some tips. Close the toilet lid before flushing. If the toilet does not have a lid or you're using a urinal, "flush and run." Also, thoroughly wash your hands both before and after using the restroom.