Health

A Doctor Explains How You Can Protect Yourself From COVID Inside A Public Restroom

When you gotta go, you gotta go — even in a pandemic.

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on, people are trying to better navigate the way they partake in everyday activities, so that they can do so while staying safe. Things that once required no thinking now call for extremely cautious procedures to avoid exposure to COVID-19. And one thing people may be wondering is how to stay safe while using a public restroom.

Public restrooms can be gross all on their own. So when you add the potential of being exposed to COVID-19 and it could really put some people on edge. And unfortunately, sometimes using a public bathroom is just a necessity. When nature calls, you just have to answer. Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic, you shouldn't be scared to use a public restroom. As long as you're aware of the dangers and use safe practices, you can use the bathroom stress-free.

What Makes Using Public Restrooms Risky During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

The biggest issue with public restrooms is that they're communal, Dr. Jen Caudle, DO, Family Physician and associate professor at Rowan University, tells Bustle. Because there are people constantly coming in and out of the restroom, it becomes slightly more dangerous in terms of potential COVID-19 exposure. She mentions that public restrooms are shared spaces that often have poor ventilation, so aerosols or respiratory droplets — the main channel through which the virus is spread — can often linger in the air.

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Stool particles can linger in the air as well, Dr. Caudle points out. "We know that COVID doesn't just stay in our respiratory tract," Dr. Caulde says, as she references studies that showed that the virus can live in the feces of those infected with COVID-19. This has left some people concerned at the possibility of infected fecal particles being aerosolized and dispersed through the air after people flush.

How Do I Safely Use A Public Restroom During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Dr. Caudle explains that there are safety tips people can follow before they even use the restroom. "First of all, it's also important to wear your mask when you're in the bathroom," she says. She also says to remember that with the doorknob and stall door, there are many things in public restrooms that you usually have to touch. "Try to do that with some tissue in hand," she says.

She advises that people should try to wait a few minutes after someone's flushed to even enter a stall, referring back to concerns of fecal particles being dispersed in the air. And when you flush the toilet after using it yourself, it can be helpful to use your foot to flush instead of your hands and then close the lid, if the toilet has one.

Aside from practicing CDC-mandated hand-washing guidelines after using the restroom, Dr. Caudle suggests opting for paper towels instead of hand dryers if possible. Air dryers could be contributing to spreading particles through the air as well.

"I just want people to remember to social distance in the bathroom, too," Dr. Caudle says. "Just because you're in the bathroom doesn't mean you have the license to be around other people closely." She suggests avoiding lingering around after using the bathroom or staying there longer to fix makeup or check yourself out in the mirror. "There's no reason to stay," she says.

Expert:

Dr. Jen Caudle, DO, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University