Researchers have found increasing evidence that urinals and toilets can propel inhalable particles of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, into the air, and now, they are suggesting that wearing a mask in public restrooms should be mandatory.
“Urinal flushing indeed promotes the spread of bacteria and viruses,” researcher Xiangdong Liu said in a press statement about the study.
“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.”
Liu and his colleagues simulated urinal flushing via computer models, and they were eventually able to estimate that within just five seconds of flushing, virus particles had the potential to reach a height of more than two feet, according to the study that was published in the journal Physics of Fluid.
It took about thirty seconds for the virus particles to reach the same height after flushing a toilet. As a result, flushing from urinals produces a “more violent climbing tendency,” the researchers noted.
This latest study builds on previous evidence that the coronavirus can, in fact, spread in restrooms.
In June, a similar study was carried out that witnessed flushing a toilet can spray coronavirus particles into the air—sometimes as high as three feet.
“One can foresee that the velocity will be even higher when a toilet is used frequently, such as in the case of a family toilet during a busy time or a public toilet serving a densely populated area,” the study’s co-author Ji-Xiang Wang, of Yangzhou University, said in a statement.
The novel coronavirus is known to be largely spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, breathes or sneezes on another individual, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recent studies, however, have proven that the coronavirus can live and replicate in a person’s digestive system—and evidence of the virus has been pinpointed in human waste.
“Some patients have developed gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting, showing that the virus can survive in the digestive tract,” the study said.
Researchers had suggested way back in April that toilets might provide an avenue for the coronavirus to spread.
“Already, evidence of SARS-CoV-2 contamination of surface and air samples outside of isolation rooms, and experimental data showing that SARS-CoV-2 can live in aerosols for three hours, should raise concerns about this mode of transmission and prompt additional research,” Carmen McDermott, of the University of Washington School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote in the Journal of Hospital Infection.
“Fecal shedding seems to occur in patients without gastrointestinal symptoms, which could enable asymptomatic individuals with no respiratory symptoms to be a source of fecal transmission,” they added.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.