Using Public Restroom During COVID-19 & How to Protect Kids While Doing So

Imagine you are at a store, and your kid needs to use the restroom. As a parent, panic immediately strikes you at the thought of using a public restroom amid the pandemic. The only way out of the situation is to wait until you reach home. However, you look at your little one’s face and realize that it is not possible.

This is a rather common situation as a lot of parents might find themselves in a similar dilemma. A lot of people are afraid to use public restrooms due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and they don't know who has used the restrooms before them. A lot of public restrooms at restaurants have been shut down due to the pandemic. Still, the health experts say that if we take proper precautions and hygiene practices, we can use a public restroom with minimal risk of infection.

Risks Associated With Public Restrooms 

The biggest concern of parents is their children's habit of touching everything out of curiosity. This concern became more significant after a recent study showed that the COVID-19 virus could survive in feces. Dr. Maldonaldo, a professor of pediatric infectious disease at Stanford University, says it is not known how much infectious material is present in feces, and how much is aerosolized after a flush.

As most public restrooms are small and have poor ventilation with lots of traffic, the risk of infection is high—however, Dr. Maldonaldo says that the risk imposed by the public restrooms is not enough that you need to avoid them. The spread of the virus is not only dependent on the contact but also on the duration of that contact. 

"Most people aren't sitting in public bathrooms for hours and hours," she said. "And frankly, if you look at the data on transmission, some of the most important transmission occurs in the home, because there are lots of high-repetitive touch areas over time." In a public bathroom, an infected person is just touching surfaces once, rather than over and over.

Precautions to Take While Using a Public Restroom

Dr. Maldonaldo mentioned that researchers have not figured out the risk posed by the use of a restroom used by an infected person moments ago. However, there are still precautions that parents should take. She said, "The best way to deal with surfaces is with disinfectant wipes and handwashing: wipe down door handles and toilet seats." We all have been told that the use of disinfectants and soaps can destroy the potency of COVID-19 pathogens. Additionally, people should always wear masks within a building (that is not their home) and maintain social distancing. Masks are absolutely necessary as respiratory droplets are one of the most dangerous sources of COVID-19 transmission.

In the opinion of Dr. Tanya Altman, (an MD and a pediatrician, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and mother of three based in Calabasas, Calif.,) small children shouldn't be allowed to touch anything in a public restroom, and their parents should help them as much as possible. She advises that the parents should take proper precautions while touching surfaces and use gloves or tissue papers to do so.

So, as a parent, you need to help your child open the door, help them put down the seat, help them wipe and flush afterward. Dr. Altman says that parents should not only help their children in a public restroom during the COVID-19 outbreak but, in general, until the kid reaches a certain age.

Once the kid has used the washroom, the parents should wash their as well as their kid's hand with soap and water. It is also advised to avoid hand drying machines and rely on tissue paper to dry your hands. Using tissue paper to open doors is also a good practice. As the kids grow old, they need to learn to follow these precautions while using a restroom.

How to Change Diapers of Infants in a Public Restroom

A lot of places have dedicated stations to help parents change the diapers of their babies. Still, Altmann suggests that parents should carry a plastic garbage bag to spread over the changing table. They should carry necessary supplies such as gloves and sanitizer wipes, etc. Once the diaper is changed, the parents should remove the gloves and put them in that garbage bag along with the used diaper and wipes and dispose of them. It is also an excellent option to change diapers on grass or in the back of the car.

Don't Tell the Kids to Wait

Dr. Richard Jackson, MD, a pediatrician and professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health, mentioned that parents think that their child could wait until they get home. However, holding a bladder or bowel for a long time is not healthy.  

He said, "Mother Nature intended us to get rid of waste, and it doesn't take much time to get backed up." If a child is forced to hold on, it could lead to problems like voiding dysfunction. Holding on for five or ten minutes is fine, but it depends on the child, and a parent shouldn't force them to hold on.

Another possible solution is to carry a portable toilet for younger kids. Raina Kumra, a mother of two, used this solution during her trip to Orange County. Her son had no problem with peeing on a tree, but her 4-year old daughter felt uncomfortable. So, Raina decided to carry a camping toilet in her car. 

Relieving Yourself Outdoors

A lot of younger kids have no qualms with peeing outdoors. However, public health experts are against open defecation, especially in areas that are frequented by people. Dr. Altmann said, "Make sure that you're following the rules of that campground. If the rules are to use the bathrooms, be considerate, and follow the guidelines."

Similarly, Dr. Jackson said, "It would not be a good idea to disperse feces around a place where there are a lot of people running around." 

"You don't know if a 3-year-old is going to be running in the area a few minutes later. If you're going to have to use the facilities, use gloves and masks," he added.

A lot of people like to go on hiking trips, and these hiking areas don't offer public restrooms. So, the best way to deal with solid waste is to bury it in a hole that is eight-inches deep and far away from the trail and water source.


The advantages of getting out and spending some time in the sun outweigh the risks of using a public restroom. Physical, as well as mental health, depends on spending some time outdoors, and one should not worry about going outdoors as long as he or she is taking proper precautions. 

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