Even before COVID-19, the United States was behind in its approach to public restroom design: gendered bathrooms with typical stalls revealing feet (or even totally unfurnished urinals) lack privacy, the cleanliness and comfort of their simple and neutral rooms. counterparts of pods in Europe and Asia. But as the United States braces for a reopening amid the COVID-19 crisis, shortcomings that were once uncomfortable are turning out to be downright dangerous.
Consider that the vast majority of commercial bathrooms in the United States don’t even include lids on the toilet, which means that every time someone flushes the toilet, a “toilet plume” of droplets explodes in the toilet. air, covering the surrounding cabin (and the person in it) and aerosolize the contents of the bowl, which can be aspirated and ingested by people nearby (raw). The open-top, full-top American stalls compound this problem, as most experts estimate that a “plume” can travel six feet in any direction, including up and over any direction. stall and in the next (coarser). We also know that COVID-19 has been found in human poop, up to 33 days after those infected recovered and tested negative for the virus. No amount of hand washing will wash off a virus that is sprayed all over your body.
There are obvious solutions (if they are not practical): add lids to public toilets; implement contactless toilet flushes, taps and soap dispensers; and close any other stalls or urinals if they are too tight to each other. Erin Lilly, head of design at Kohler, said the company expects interest to increase in “materials that repel dirt or allow easier cleaning (including resisting stronger cleaners) and products that work with minimal or no human contact â.
James Walsh, vice president of product management at American Standard, said the company has seen “a dramatic increase in demands for contactless technologies,” especially from schools wishing to improve bathrooms before reopening. potentially this fall. And while lids may seem like a quick fix, Walsh says Americans are generally not inclined to use them in shared spaces. âPeople don’t even want to touch a manual flush valve; they kick with their foot, âsays Walsh. “We may need to completely redesign the toilet seat and possibly add the activation of the seat sensor moving up and down.”
American Standard also expects to see increased interest in deeper sinks with more sloping basin walls. They are currently typical in surgical suites, where healthcare workers rub each other before an operation, and they make sure that water does not splash back on the user or collect in puddles that attract bacteria to the user. the surrounding counters.
Longer term, experts suggest that public toilets should be high on US priorities. âAmerican businesses don’t seem to understand, like European businesses, that having clean, safe, and pleasant bathrooms is better for their bottom line,â says Steven Soifer, professor of social work at the University of Mississippi and president and co-founder of the American Restroom. Association. The organization has long advocated for gender-neutral single-person toilets; the pandemic added one more argument for them, as this setup means that those âtoilet plumesâ at least don’t carry over to the stand next to yours. Soifer also points to a disastrous experience in the city of Seattle installing a self-cleaning public toilet – which sprayed disinfectant and electrically washed floors after each use (but ended up trapping and watering the homeless) – as an expensive solution. that could be considered (if better implemented) after COVID-19. While execution needs to be evaluated closely, the idea could have some value, given that experts believe COVID-19 can survive on hard, smooth surfaces such as stainless steel for up to three days.
Beyond the flushing and stalling themselves, the way our public toilets are organized does not bode well for social distancing, says Kathryn Anthony, professor of architecture at the University of the Illinois to Urbana-Champaign who is also a member of the board of directors of the American Restroom. Association. For places that anticipate that people are reluctant to touch door handles, we can see the adoption of S-shaped toilets that have no front doors and instead use a curvy shape to keep the stalls out. of view. Anthony is also advocating for gender-neutral toilets, to avoid incidents, especially at high traffic events where women have to wait in long, tight queues while men’s rooms remain fairly empty.
While there is a lot to be improved upon in the American washroom, there are some things to take comfort in, at least according to Andrew Dent, executive vice president of materials research at Material Connexion (which researches and advises design companies on the best materials for the products). Dent points out that bathrooms, unlike stores, offices, waiting rooms or living rooms, are designed for regular and severe disinfection and are cleaned regularly, even outside of pandemics.
While there have been suggestions that naturally antimicrobial materials such as silver or copper could make a resurgence after COVID-19, it would be best to clean bathroom surfaces more regularly. âIf we’re concerned about bacteria and viruses, every door is covered in them,â Dent explains. âThe toilet handle has probably been cleaned 10 times in the last few hours. (Although that may be a bit optimistic, the point remains.) Dent suggests that time and research would be better spent changing people’s habits, whether it be to get them to wash their hands longer and more often. or lower the seat when they flush the toilet. “I would prefer a smooth, non-porous surface that is minimally affected by the design and has it cleaned as regularly as possible.”
Designers of the world, have you.