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Should We Bring Back the Toilet Lid
By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions
Published: 04/27/2020

Prison wall a Every cell in a correctional facility has a toilet. However, in some correctional locations, inmates are housed in dorm settings.

In this case, there may be a row of toilets and urinals along different walls, just as in a commercial office or school setting. Sometimes, barriers and partitions are separating the different toilets, and some may even have doors for additional privacy. However, very often, there are no barriers or separations between the toilets whatsoever.

As to how they are manufactured, the trend today is to use stainless steel. However, in older correctional facilities, we often find that most restroom fixtures are made of porcelain. The switch to stainless steel is primarily because it is harder to vandalize these restroom fixtures.

However, no matter what kind is installed and in what setting – cells or dorms – one thing we find is that there are no lids. This is true in commercial facilities as well. Lids were removed years ago to help reduce costs and make the toilet easier to clean. However, with COVID-19, we may need to reconsider this trend.

Before we explain the problem, let us do a quick review of how COVID is spread. The most common forms of transmission that we know today are the following:
  • Direct or indirect contact with someone that is contagious with the disease. Indirect refers to touching a surface that has recently been touched by an infectious person.
  • Droplets from a cough that land on our skin or eyes.
  • Airborne with COVID passing through the air or, of concern in a correctional facility, in the ventilation system
  • Oral-fecal transmission, referring to contagious fecal matters inadvertently being inhaled or touched on a surface.
Now, with a better understanding of how COVID is transmitted, here is why we need to reconsider the installation of lids on toilets. It all comes down to what is known as “aerosolized feces,” referring to the oral-fecal transmission just discussed. I know this term may cause some uneasy reactions, but aerosolized feces are a fact of life, and with COVID, it can be deadly.

Here is what is going on. Every time the toilet is flushed, a phenomenon called “toilet plume” is created.

These are particulates from the feces that become airborne. We’ve known about this for decades. But, what many of us are just now learning is that scientists have found traces of COVID germs in feces.

These germs then land on a variety of surfaces surrounding the toilet. This would include other fixtures, walls, doors, and floors. Further, because they are now airborne, they can be inhaled by other inmates and staff, again potentially spreading the disease.

This can be far more serious than we realize. A study released by a Hong Kong university and published in February 2020, found that as many as 80,000 polluted droplets [are released from toilets] as they are flushed, reaching as much as three feet into the air and lasting for hours if the lid is left up. *

While installing lids will not prevent all these droplets from being released, it could prevent the majority of these droplets from finding their way onto surrounding surfaces.

However, if your toilets do not have lids and there is no expectation that lids will be installed anytime soon, what can correctional facility administrators do about this situation? It all comes down to cleaning, says Terry Schawe, technical director for Kaivac, manufacturers of cleaning systems designed to stop the spread of infection.

“We can no longer just clean toilets or urinals and consider the job done. With droplets reaching as much as three feet and lasting for hours, the entire area around toilets and urinals must be cleaned.”

In dorm settings, there are different ways to accomplish this:
  • Washing walls, floors, and surrounding areas with cleaning cloths, buckets, and mops are an option. This will only be effective if the cleaning cloths are changed very frequently, separate cleaning cloths are used for cleaning urinals, toilets, and walls, and the cleaning solution is refreshed often. Make sure to use a disinfectant certified by the CDC that is effective against the virus. This option can be useful if performed correctly. However, it is slow. In most cases, these surfaces must be cleaned first and then disinfected.
  • Another option is the use of no-touch cleaning systems. These systems apply fresh cleaning solution and disinfectant to all restroom areas – fixtures, walls, floors, counters – which are then pressure washed. The process removes contaminants, which are then vacuumed up by the machine. This process tends to be faster because all the steps are included in the process, and more thorough.
As for toilets in individual cells, the best option – if possible- is to install lids. There are not too many ways around it. Lids installed on these toilets will not only help now, with COVID but can help prevent other diseases from spreading because so many are the result of aerosolized feces.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the corrections industry. He can be reached at robert.kravitz@outlook.com.

*Coronavirus: pathogens linger in toilets for hours if you flush without closing lid – and some may still sneak through even if it is down,” Hong Kong study finds,” by Brian Wong, South China Morning News, February 13, 2020


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