If you have done any traveling over the past few years, you may have noticed some welcome changes in airport bathrooms. Many are now equipped with sensors that turn on the water faucets automatically. You don’t have to touch the tap. The paper towels roll down when you wave your hand in front of the dispenser. In addition, most of the toilets flush by themselves when you stand up to walk away. There’s just one more thing we could wish to make public toilets less likely to spread germs: automatic toilet lids that close to trap the toilet plume that can be kicked up with a flush. 

Is the Toilet Plume a Problem?

Q. I recently read that a “toilet plume” could carry COVID-19 viral particles into the air and that public restrooms are especially risky because the toilets have no lids.

I have been concerned about this possibility for years. So even at home, I cover the toilet with newspaper, close the lid and then flush the toilet. I throw the newspaper in the garbage before I wash my hands thoroughly. You will be surprised how damp the newspaper gets from just one flush.

Physicists Warn About Flushing:

A. Physicists recently modeled the behavior of fluids when a toilet is flushed and warned about the toilet plume (Physics of Fluids, June 16, 2020).  They found that a fine mist could rise up to three feet above the toilet. Consequently, they recommend closing the lid before flushing.

We know that infected people shed SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in their stool (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, May 2020). In a public restroom, this could create a transmission risk.

The CDC suggests that you don’t really need to close the lid, however. The agency has received no confirmed reports of anyone catching COVID-19 from a flushing toilet.

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