The 'new normal' when it comes to public restrooms
Slowly, every state in the union is taking steps to re-open its doors. They are doing this as the number of COVID-19 cases start to inch down.
In some states, such as Texas and Georgia, virtually all business doors have been re-opened. This means that restaurants, movie theaters, stores, malls, and places of work are about back to normal for the first time in almost two months.
However, when consumers, and the workers in these facilities return to these locations, they may find several things have changed.
For instance, restaurant owners are testing different ways to ensure diners feel safe in their properties. Some are installing plexiglass partitions. Others are limiting how many people can be in the restaurant at once. Expect silverware and plates to be sealed and wrapped in plastic. Fewer tables will be in dining rooms and re-arranged to help improve distancing.
And another area that is also getting a COVID revamp is restrooms.
All businesses realize that their customers, whether in restaurants or movie theaters, are going to be paying close attention to restrooms. The same is true in industrial locations. Workers want to know that their employers are taking steps to protect their health. Restroom cleanliness has always been a concern in industrial locations. But now, due to COVID, those concerns have escalated considerably.
So, we should expect a “New Normal” when it comes to restrooms in the post COVID era. Among the changes anticipated are the following:
Whereas restrooms were often thoroughly cleaned once per day or between shifts, many industrial restrooms will hire people just to clean them on an ongoing basis throughout the day. We should add, many employers want their workers to see the restrooms being cleaned during the day. This helps reduce anxieties about the cleanliness of the restrooms.
The return of paper towels.
There are concerns that blow dryers could cause pathogens to become airborne. Many facilities are removing blow dryers and re-installing paper towel dispensers to help prevent this.
Push button soap dispensers.
Just like air blowers, expect push-button soap dispensers to be a thing of the fast. These will likely be replaced with touchless systems. Related to this, manual-fill soap dispensers will also likely disappear. Manually soap filling dispensers opens the door to contamination. They will be replaced with cartridge soap dispensers, eliminating this concern.
Most restroom fixtures, latches, and other objects found in restrooms, are made with silver. These will be replaced with polished copper. Copper is a natural antimicrobial. “When a microbe lands on copper, ions blast the pathogen like an onslaught of missiles, preventing cell respiration and punching holes in the cell membrane,” according to Bill Keevil, microbiologist with the University of Southampton (U.K.).
Expect facilities to reduce the number of toilets, sinks, and urinals in their restrooms. The goal is to have fewer people in the restroom at one time. Users will have to wait outside the restroom - standing six feet apart - until a stall has opened.
The trend has been to remove partitions between urinals. That will be reversed in the New Normal men's room. Expect more partitions to be installed. Some hotels are even considering installing fully enclosed stalls, just as they have for toilets.
Proof of service.
Many industrial facilities place restroom cleaning "check-off" sheets on the back of restroom doors. These indicate who last cleaned the restroom and when. Expect those to now be posted on the front of doors and restroom entries for all to see. Plus, they may also include ATP readings so that users know the restroom has been scientifically tested to ensure it is safe to use. These monitors cannot identify specific pathogens on a surface, but a high reading indicates they may be present.
Cleaning: The Common Thread
These are just some of the changes we can expect in the New Normal restroom. But one common theme they will all share is enhanced cleaning. However, it's more than just enhanced cleaning. The ways restrooms are cleaned will also come under much greater scrutiny.
A problem we now must be concerned about is that many cleaning tools, commonly used to clean industrial restrooms, are technically "fomites." Fomites are tools or materials that can carry pathogens and, by using them, spread them to other surfaces.
When discussing fomites in the professional cleaning industry, two things come to mind:
- SARS: Fomites were found to have helped spread the germs that caused SARS in Hong Kong. This is a concern because SARS is in the coronavirus family of viruses.
- Mops and cleaning cloths. Not only can these spread pathogens as used, but mops can be a serious concern. With use, they become damp, which can make them a hospitable environment for pathogens to live, potentially extending their lifespans.
To address this challenge, more industrial facilities will use restroom cleaning alternatives such as what ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, calls spray-and-vac (no-touch) cleaning. Many already use these systems because they are a faster way to clean industrial restrooms. They apply cleaning solution directly to surfaces to be cleaned, rinse them, and then vacuum up moisture and soils. There is no need for cleaning cloths or mops, eliminating the fomite issue.
We can expect more changes to restrooms in the coming months ahead. The New Normal, when it comes to restrooms, is not an end point. As we learn more about the disease and how it is transmitted, expect further changes down the road.