The virus that causes the COVID-19 illness is spread from person to person mainly through the spray that people cough or sneeze out. Singing, shouting and perhaps breathing very heavily may produce the same mist and so may also increase the risk.
We wear masks to reduce that danger. Spectator events and religious gatherings were limited to keep large numbers of screaming or singing people from being together. When we’re allowed to congregate again, the rules will have been changed to space us apart and to reduce the singing or chanting of the entire crowd.
What about using public washrooms? We know that the virus can be found in our bowel movements and a study has shown that when we flush, if the toilet seat isn’t put down, an aerosol plume can be generated that may rise a couple of feet into the air and stay hanging there for a while. On top of that, bathrooms may not be well ventilated. So what are we to do to lower the risk?
First, avoid a crowded bathroom. If you can, wait for people to leave. Everyone in the bathroom should be wearing a mask. It may be impossible to maintain a 6 foot (2 metre) distance between people in a bathroom. Alternate urinals and washbasins might be taped over so that they can’t be used to help maintain a safe distance between them.
If possible, close the toilet seat before flushing. Do not use hot-air dryers to dry your hands as they could potentially disperse a virus for up to 3 meters. Be careful touching shared surfaces like door handles or faucets. After you’re done, wash your hands properly with soap and water. Use a paper towel to dry your hands, close the faucet and to open the door to leave to reduce the risk that your now clean hands touch a contaminated surface. Then dispose of the paper towel appropriately.
What about going to the gym? Expect not to be able to shower or use the lockers for now. Fewer people will be able to work out at the same time to enable proper distancing. Similarly, workout equipment will need to be spaced, therefore alternate machines may not be able to be used.
Equipment will need to be properly wiped down using disinfecting wipes before and after they’re used. You need to wait for the surface that’s been disinfected to dry completely before it’s safe.
By the way, many of these precautions are ones that make sense to reduce the spread of the flu and other illnesses and so should really have always been in place.
Dr Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.