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Infectious Diseases

Updated 21 August 2020

Heading out during Level 2? Make sure you wear your mask in public restrooms

Researchers have determined that flushing urinals in public restrooms can propel particles carrying coronavirus into the air.

  • When entering public spaces, we must wear masks and wash our hands
  • Urinals carry the risk of spreading Covid-19 through droplets expelled into the air when flushing
  • Researchers suggest keeping our masks on when going to the loo

When lockdown Level 2 was announced on 15 August 2020, many people were excited at the prospect of meeting friends in public spaces, including bars and restaurants.

While you can reduce your risk of contracting Covid-19 by wearing a mask, washing hands and standing at least 2m away from other people, there is another area where you should be careful – public restrooms.

Earlier this year, Health24 published an article mentioning a study that investigated the spread of Covid-19 by means of a plume of particles when we flush toilets. A new research paper published in Physics of Fluids similarly investigated the spread of Covid-19 in public restrooms – but this time, as a result of urinals being flushed.

Urinals and urine as a vector of Covid-19

In the earlier article, we discussed the risk of Covid-19 spreading through stools. Recently, researchers were also able to extract SARS-CoV-2 particles from urine. This means that flushing a toilet with the lid up isn’t the only thing in restrooms that can spread Covid-19 through air particles, but that the flushing of urinals could also be a risk.

The researchers looked at the flushing process of urinals to investigate the trajectory and flow pattern of viral aerosols and found that more than 57% of the particles travel up and away from the urinal, rather than downwards.

According to Xiangdong Liu, a study author, the trajectory of the droplets from a urinal tends to be even higher than that from a toilet.

Urinals are frequently used in crowded situations such as bars, and the researchers are concerned that these may add to the spread of Covid-19.

Masks remain important, even in the restroom

In this study, the researchers emphasised the importance of wearing a mask in public spaces, especially restrooms.

"From our work, it can be inferred that urinal flushing indeed promotes the spread of bacteria and viruses," stated Liu in a news release. "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."

If you have to make use of a public restroom, wear a mask, don’t take longer than you need to, and wash your hands, especially after handling levers, taps and doorknobs.

READ | Keep a lid on it: Flushing a toilet may spread Covid-19

READ | Worried about catching coronavirus from surfaces? The city you live in may matter

READ | Why soap and water is effective in protecting against coronavirus

Image credit: Getty Images