Should you wear a mask in a public restroom? How the coronavirus can spread in bathrooms

People should wear masks when they enter public restrooms because there’s evidence that flushing toilets and urinals may shoot coronavirus particles into the air, researchers said in a new study.



a band performing on stage in front of a mirror posing for the camera: A urinal is marked with black tape to prevent use as a measure to encourage safe social distancing in a shopping mall bathroom in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, June 5, 2020. The government has eased the lockdown it put in place to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, authorizing the opening of some stores and restaurants as part of a plan coined, “Intelligent Quarantine.”


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A urinal is marked with black tape to prevent use as a measure to encourage safe social distancing in a shopping mall bathroom in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, June 5, 2020. The government has eased the lockdown it put in place to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, authorizing the opening of some stores and restaurants as part of a plan coined, “Intelligent Quarantine.”

What’s happening:

Researchers said in a study — published in the journal Physics of Fluid Monday — that the coronavirus can be found in stool or urine.

Flushing urinals can create an “alarming upward flow” of particles, allowing the coronavirus to “travel faster and fly farther” than from a toilet flush.

  • 57% of particles traveled away from the urinal, according to the study.

“Urinal flushing indeed promotes the spread of bacteria and viruses. Wearing a mask should be mandatory within public restrooms during the pandemic, and anti-diffusion improvements are urgently needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” — researcher Xiangdong Liu said in a press release, according to USA Today.

  • Researchers said virus particles could reach 2 feet off the air within five seconds of flushing.

“Potentially, it could contaminate other surfaces you would touch — the handle, the tap. The concern is also — was there anything left over from the person who was there before? Aerosolization from the previous user you may potentially inhale?” — Charles Gerba, a professor of virology at the University of Arizona, to USA Today.

What this means:

Similar research

  • Back in June, a study Yangzhou University in China found that the coronavirus could spread from the spray in your toilet, which I wrote about for Deseret.com.
  • Researchers used a computer modeling software to show how water sprays into the air after it is flushed. The model showed particles in the flush could reach as high as 3 feet.
  • Flushing would leave “a cloud of little particles containing fecal matter into the air — fecal matter that could carry the coronavirus,” according to CNN.

What human waste tells us

  • Just one more note — Utah has been studying sewage to determine where the coronavirus lingers within the state, The researchers have used sewage to determine infection rates and potential clusters, according to Ashley Imlay of the Deseret News.
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