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  • As American businesses contemplate re-opening, they must consider the problem of the crowded, disease-ridden public restroom.
  • Some businesses are installing touchless sinks and dryers, and others are doing away with restaurant doors and rows of urinals.
  • If you are going to a public restroom, washing your hands throughly with soap for 20 seconds is your best line of defense against the typical assortment of bathroom bacteria.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As the public's mind turns to re-opening, people are thinking about how to retrofit workplaces for safety. But what about public bathrooms, which have long been crowded, germ-infested places?

For germophobes, using public bathrooms has always been a risky endeavour. Many worry that toilet seats can spread germs and even diseases, although doctors say that it's highly unlikely. Another concern is centered around getting infected from the typical assortment of viruses, bacteria, and germs, like E. coli and the cold virus, that live on high-touch bathroom surfaces like sinks and faucet handles.

Others worry about the germs in feces getting propelled into the air with the flushing of a toilet. And with a new study showing that the coronavirus can be found in human waste up to a month after the person has recovered, this fear seems to be grounded.

The typical toilet found in an American restroom is lid-less, "and high-pressure flushes create a plume of droplets that extends at least six feet," Steven Soifer, president of the American Restroom Association, told the Washington Post.

Goodbye to faucet handles, bathroom doors, and blow dryers

According to the Washington Post, some businesses are installing bathroom monitors, who ensure that everyone remains a healthy distance apart at all times. Other businesses are quickly removing anything with a button or handle, and installing touchless sinks and hand dryers.

Restroom doors, which require the gripping of a doorknob to open, are also falling by the wayside, and in their place are the type of doorless bathroom entrances typically seen in airports. Blowdryers, which can blow viral droplets across a room, are being replaced with paper towels, and the typical assembly line of men's urinals is now a thing of the past.

All of these changes may signal a new era in home design, which has historically been influenced by infectious diseases. In the early 1900s, sinks were a common feature in tenement hallways, during a time when cholera and typhus were rampant. And after the 1918 flu pandemic, designers created home bathrooms with easily-cleaned tile floors and geometric fixtures, Elizabeth Yuko wrote in Citylab. By the 70s, when people stopped worrying about the spread of another pandemic, less hygienic trends like fuzzy toilet seats and carpeted bathroom floors became popular.

The post-coronavirus bathroom may have a bidet and a touchless sink in it. It'll hopefully have a large, refillable container of soap, too.

If you must use a public restroom, wash your hands thoroughly

Doctors have always said that for people with healthy immune systems and thorough handwashing skills, public bathrooms are relatively safe. But pre-pandemic, a number of studies showed that a thorough handwash, for the requisite 20 seconds, was not the norm for many Americans.

One 2009 study, cited by the CDC, showed that 69% of men don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, compared to 35% of women. Another 2013 Michigan State University study found that 95% of people do not wash their hands long enough to kill harmful bacteria. Most recently, in 2019, a YouGov survey of 24,000 Americans found that 40% of them do not always wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom.

"The humble act of washing with soap and water, followed by drying with a clean towel is the gold standard," Elizabeth Scott, an expert in home and community hygiene and professor at Simmons University, previously told Business Insider. "Hand washing with soap employs mechanical action that loosens bacteria and viruses from the skin, rinsing them into the drain."

Follow this by drying your hands, and your skin is suddenly a whole lot less hospitable to the bacteria and viruses that can make you sick.

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