Toilets and Covid safety
Last updated: January 19, 2021
In the Covid era, questions have been raised about whether using a public restroom is a public health risk. Now that the hospitality sector has started opening its doors again, RightRooms looks at what the risks might be when using hotel restrooms and what hotels should be doing to combat them.
Covid-19 is spread through the air via invisible droplets that are dispersed when an infected person sneezes or coughs. While information about this mode of transmission is relatively well known, evidence supporting the possibility of faecal transmission has been slowly accumulating. A literature review in ScienceDirect points to an increasing number of studies that have detected the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the stool of infected Covid-19 patients. Yet, the detection of the virus in the stool does not necessarily indicate that it can be spread through faecal transmission.
However, in a more recent study in the Journal Physics of Fluids researchers used a computer simulation to show how the turbulence created from a toilet flush can create a cloud of aerosol droplets. These droplets could last long enough to be breathed in by the next toilet user. If Covid-19 can survive in the faeces of an infected person, this raises the possibility that it can be transmitted via the use of public toilets.
It’s important to note that contracting the virus via accidental consumption of virus particles from a toilet flush is by no means an established truth. Many questions remain over whether it plays any role in the spread of Covid-19. In fact, the World Health Organisation advises that there is currently no definitive evidence of the toilet plume effect and existing reports should be interpreted carefully.
Despite these uncertainties, out of an abundance of caution, experts say there are still precautions that both guests and hotel staff should take when accessing or cleaning toilet facilities.
Closing the lid
Previous studies have found that closing the toilet lid before flushing plays a part in the reduction of particles of harmful bacteria in the air. Co-author of the Covid-19 flush-simulation study Ji-Xiang Wang, advises closing the lid before flushing as well as urging manufacturers to ‘produce better designed toilets in which the lid is automatically put down before flushing’.
Hands, face, space
In hotel public restrooms, as with any public space, advice and regulations around wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing still apply. As we all know by now, physical distancing of at least one metre, and preferably two, is strongly associated with protection. Guests should wash their hands and choose to use a urinal that is furthest away from another guest. Cubicle toilet walls offer some protection.
If possible, guests should minimise touching surfaces; by using their foot or a paper towel when opening a door. Fullerton Hotels & Resorts has committed to touch-free hand sanitiser dispensers in public restrooms.
Many hotels, such as the Strand Palace Hotel are urging guests not to use the communal toilets and to instead use their private room facilities only. Some communal toilets may be closed altogether, causing the BBC to raise concerns about the difficulty this may cause for those with disabilities, who may need immediate access.
What should hotels be doing to keep guests safe?
In both public and guest room toilets, hotels should be conducting enhanced cleaning procedures. Industry association UKHospitality has issued advice for all hospitality venues about the management of toilets during this time.
This includes: Keeping facilities well-ventilated – such as by fixing doors open where possible Prioritising handwash facilities (such as abundant soap supplies) Removing reusable equipment (such as fabric towels, baby-changing mats) and replacing with disposable products Increasing frequency of toilet cleaning, accounting for the possibility that Covid-19 can survive on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours Paying close attention to the sanitisation of frequently touched areas including toilet flush, toilet seat, toilet locks and handles, taps, paper towel and soap dispensers and door handles.
As well as this, Hilton Hotels # has committed to the provision of additional amenities such as linens and toiletries upon request, delivered in protective packaging and placed at the guest room door.
How will I know my hotel is adhering to best practice?
Guests should not be afraid to ask hotel staff what they are doing to ensure a Covid-safe toilet facility. Hotels should put up a visible cleaning schedule so that guests can see when a toilet was last cleaned. Scottish government advice also urges hotels to consider providing a contact number for the public to use should they have any concerns regarding cleanliness (for example if the facility has been heavily soiled between cleans).
To reassure guests, Choice Hotels has introduced ‘Clean seals’ on certain high-touch items in guest rooms such as the toilet, to provide visible reassurance that they have been cleaned.
Useful links Find up-to-date guidance on travel, safety, Covid-19 research and more.
RightRooms believes all information to be correct at time of going to press. As guidance, research and facts around Covid-19 are changing constantly, the information provided here is for general information only and does not constitute professional advice. Please check with venues, locations and attractions before travelling.