As businesses reopen across Georgia, questions remain about safety of public restrooms

ATLANTA — You want to feel safe when you go to restaurants, movie theaters and malls. But here's something you may not have thought about: COVID-19 could spread in public restrooms.

Channel 2’s Michael Seiden has been looking into studies that show just flushing the toilet can expose you to the virus.

Experts are now warning the coronavirus can remain present in human feces for a full 30 days following an infected person’s recovery from the virus.

While people are eager to get out of their homes, one parent told Seiden that she’s nervous about this troubling bathroom situation.

When you’re the mother of two active and athletic boys, it’s always imperative to make sure your children use the bathroom before hitting the road.

“Jack plays hockey, so we have 6:30 a.m. hockey practice every Saturday morning and then games. And then Parker has practice and sports, and then birthday parties, and then more games on Sunday. So we are never home,” mother Jessica Eaton said. “We’re leaving, and they’re like, ‘I have to poop!’”

And of course, you can’t forget about those pit stops.

“I can’t think of a time where they haven’t had to go to the bathroom multiple times when we’ve left the house. It’s just automatic,” Eaton said.


According to a new study, when nature calls, you may want to think twice before you answer.

“Scientists have been able to show that the coronavirus can live for more than 30 days in feces,” said Steven Soifer, professor at the University of Mississippi and president and co-founder of the American Restroom Association. “The most important, I think, is the water plume that comes up from the seatless toilets. Most people don’t realize this, and it’s pretty disgusting. But there’s a 6-foot water plume that goes up in the air, and you have water particles mixed with other things, including, unfortunately, feces at times.”

If a neighboring stall user is infected with the coronavirus, the mere act of flushing a toilet can send feces particles into the air and onto your hands or face.

“No one has shown that anyone has caught the coronavirus from that, but it’s a concern,” Soifer said.

It’s a concern the American Restroom Association is attempting to address by recommending these protective measures we should take to cut down on the possible transmission of the coronavirus in public bathrooms.

Unisex bathrooms designed for a single person.

In traditional gang-style men’s public restrooms, this means having ceiling dividers between urinals or blocking off at least every other urinal.

And lids for all coverless toilet bowls.

Also, soap and hand sanitizer dispensers in every restroom.

“I think the No. 1 concern for public going back to shopping or eating out is the public bathroom situation,” Soifer said.

This is why The Wall Street Journal reports McDonald's just announced a new plan to redesign its bathrooms.

The idea is for locations to install foot pulls to allow customers to open bathroom doors without using their hand, as well as $310 automatic towel dispensers and $718 touchless sinks, which may not protect against airborne exposure but would, at least, minimize the risk of surface contact with the virus.

“The full redesign would run $25,000,” Soifer said.

That’s a supersized price tag, especially for young entrepreneur Alex Braunstein, founder and owner of Atlanta-based Grindhouse Killer Burgers.

“Thankfully, our restaurants only have single stalls,” Braunstein said.

He told Seiden that right now, Grindhouse Killer Burgers is only open for takeout and delivery, but Braunstein allowed our cameras inside one of his locations, where the plan is to reopen the dining room July 1.

And although a bathroom redesign is not on the menu, Braunstein said he still has some ideas on how to keep customers safe while they use the bathroom, beginning with frequent cleaning and disinfecting.

“I’m sure we will do it every hour now,” Braunstein said.

But will it be enough to ease customers' concerns? For Eaton and her family, these fears are still very real.

“I think bathrooms will be a big factor because you can’t go in there without touching things,” Eaton said.

Seiden also asked Soifer if air dryers for your hands are safe. Soifer said using paper towels from a touchless dispenser is safe, but to avoid using old-school air hand dryers with adjustable vents. They can blow air all over the place, possibly spreading the virus.

We reached out to the Georgia Department of Public Health to find out if they are making recommendations on public bathroom safety and cleaning. But so far, we haven’t heard back yet.

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