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  • Cicero Construction

Remodeling Public Bathrooms in the COVID-19 Era

New designs and products ensure a safer experience for your customers 

In a matter of months, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a major uptick in hand washing, taught us the virtues of masks and social distancing, and heightened awareness of the dangers of hand-to-surface contact. One thing it hasn't done, however, is stem the reputation of public bathrooms as hotbeds of infectious diseases, as there are a number of high-touch surfaces, and the virus, along with bacteria, can exist on virtually every one of them. Plus, close proximity to strangers in small, enclosed spaces adds another layer of risk.

While there is no clear-cut answer as to whether or not public bathrooms harbor more COVID-19 germs than other indoor spaces, the lack of public trust in public bathrooms has lead some architects and contractors to retool their designs to create a safer and more appealing environment.

"We've had a number of hotel and business customers ask about ways to limit the spread of COVID-19 in their public bathrooms," said Sam Cicero, President of Cicero Construction., an Illinois-based general contractor specializing in commercial property renovation. "Quick fixes are likely to be cheaper, such as a return to paper towels, additional signage and one-way foot traffic. But longer term protection calls for a larger investment in safety."

Cicero lists these measures that can be taken whenever a commercial property undergoes a remodel. In fact, as schools look to re-open, guidelines like these are equally good to follow in those facilities.

  • Remove all push-button soap dispensers, along with high-powered air dryers that can blow harmful particles across an entire bathroom.

  • When selecting fixtures concentrate on no-touch technology or use copper materials that have naturally antimicrobial properties that prevent germs and viruses from lingering. No-touch fixtures turn on with the wave of a hand and can be installed for soap, faucets, towel dispensers, doors and toilet flushers. Hands-free solutions offer quick and easy retrofit opportunities.

  • Upgrade the HVAC ventilation and filtration to reduce airborne concentrations of COVID-19 and thus the risk of transmission through air. According to Harvard's Healthy Buildings Program, public bathrooms should have exhaust fans that are constantly running.

  • The most dangerous part of using a public restroom is the other people in it. So replace handled doors at the bathroom entrance or in stalls with a curved privacy entrance or automated doors. Widening the doorways will provide additional space for social distancing.

  • Installing smooth, nonporous quartz countertops with seamless construction prevents germs and bacteria from accumulating. Adding more space or a plastic shield between hand washing basins allows for needed social distancing.

  • Deeper sinks with steeper-sloped basin walls ensure that water doesn’t splash back onto the user or collect in bacteria-attracting puddles on surrounding counters.

  • Finally, while the jury is still out on the relationship between "toilet plumes" to COVID-19 transmission, a simple precaution is to install toilet lids and prevent the launch of potentially contaminated aerosols each time the toilet is flushed.

Few people have the bladder strength to last through drinks, dinner, or long road trips without having to use a public bathroom. Remodeling the bathrooms in your hotel, restaurant or office will help make your guests feel safer, and encourage repeat visits to your business. 

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