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Are public restrooms safe to use amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Five Restroom Upgrades to Improve Hand Washing and Minimize Germs
Posted at 4:33 AM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 13:16:50-04

(WXYZ) — As more and more people venture back out during the pandemic, avoiding COVID-19 is top of mind for many metro Detroiters, especially in places like public restrooms.

So, are they safe? 7 Action News reporter Darren Cunningham spoke with a couple of experts who address those fears and what it takes to stay safe.

Each of the experts interviewed say it all comes down to proper hand hygiene, and for businesses to follow basic cleaning procedures.

"The COVID-19 virus, SARS-2 is what we call it, is pretty wimpy. So soap and water is enough. Alcohol wipes are enough. You don't need bleach," said U-M epidemiologist Joe Eisenberg, Ph. D.

Dr. Joe eisenberg, of the University of Michigan, studies the spread of infectious diseases.

As the economy reopens and businesses welcome back customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, public restrooms may seem risky.

As we've learned COVID-19 is a respiratory pathogen spread through droplets that may contaminate surfaces.

"They can persist for hours and sometimes even a day," said Eisenberg.

But he says not nearly as long as waterborne pathogens.

"Often, when you're talking about a bathroom you're thinking about those pathogens. And those are the ones you're worried about. The ecolis, salmonellas, the noroviruses," said Eisenberg. "They can lasts for weeks and long as months."

Tim Pyle is Executive Director of the American Restroom Association, which conducted an informal survey about public restrooms and COVID-19 concerns.

"50 percent of people, you know, it's part of daily life," said Pyle. "The other 50 people, they're worried and they have a lot of concerns so as they go out, where am I going to go? Is it going to be clean?"

In addition to keeping soap and paper supplies stocked, Pyle says businesses may consider investing in touchless technology, and at the very least, do their part to boost customer confidence.

"I think there's going to be the perception that if I don't see someone physically there cleaning the restroom, and they don't see any documentation of when it was cleaned," said Pyle. "Then there's going to be a little more hesitancy, I think."

Again, if each and every person washes their hands, avoids touching their face, covers their coughs or sneezes in an elbow or wear a mask, these experts say we'll be in good shape.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Read our daily Coronavirus Live Blog for the latest updates and news on coronavirus.

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

Find out how you can help metro Detroit restaurants struggling during the pandemic.

See all of our Helping Each Other stories.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.