The Bathroom Habit That Dangerously Spreads the Coronavirus

The spread of COVID-19 can be greatly limited by this one simple trick.

While the stay-at-home orders and self-quarantining are starting to lift in a number of states across the country, COVID-19 is still spreading at alarming rates, demonstrating just how contagious the novel coronavirus truly is. Even if you're wearing masks outside, washing your hands for 20 seconds constantly, and scrubbing your surfaces, the fact is, you could still catch the deadly virus. That's because some seemingly inconspicuous and everyday behaviors can put you at risk, like… using the bathroom?

According to Erin Bromage, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, there are a lot of reasons why bathrooms are high risk in the age of the coronavirus. "Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high," Bromage noted in a recent blog post.

But that's not all, as it turns out, the aerosolization of fecal matter when one flushes the toilet can also spread the contagion. "We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets," Bromage wrote.

Prior studies have shown that toilet flushing aerosolizes infectious microbes into the air and those microbes stay airborne for at least a few minutes. Early research on COVID-19 also showed that bathrooms on cruise ships and bathrooms in hospitals were heavily contaminated. Additionally, we know that poorly ventilated indoor areas are risky places in terms of COVID-19.

But everyone has to go to the bathroom (and flush), right? So what to do? Close the toilet seat before you flush the toilet! This simple action not only abates the spread of anything that would come from the toilet bowl, but also greatly limits what would remain in the air for the next bathroom user.

So, even if you are dutifully staying away from grandma, or someone infected, but share a bathroom with them, you can unwittingly spread the contagion to loved ones and roommates if the toilet seat's not down before flushing. Also, do yourself and others a favor and if there is a fan in the bathroom, turn it on before you depart.

As Bromage warns: "Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air) until we know more about the risk." And for more helpful tips on places to avoid when your state's lockdown ends, check out 14 Places You Should Still Avoid When Lockdown Ends.