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How risky is using a public restroom during the COVID-19 pandemic? Minnesota experts weigh in

Erica Pearson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Health & Fitness

Luggable Loos. SheWees, GoGirls and Tinkle Belles.

Suddenly, portable camping potties and female funnels have become must-have products, selling out at camping stores and back-ordered online.

"We have seen a noticeable uptick in hygiene and sanitation categories," said Melissa Paul, a merchandising manager at REI, where sales of the Luggable Loo and Go Anywhere portable toilets are double what they were last year.

These devices are pandemic bestsellers because even though Minnesotans are increasingly venturing out, there's one place we remain eager to avoid: the public restroom.

Travelers are rejecting gas stations and wayside rests in favor of draping a sheet over the windshield and setting up a portable toilet in the back of their SUV or even purchasing or renting RVs just for the private potty on wheels.

Is this call-of-nature caution warranted?

 

"A multi-stall bathroom that lots of people go in? Worst place you could go," said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease expert and head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "The reason being, you have the highest density of people and the smallest amount of real estate."

Dr. Craig Hedberg, a professor who researches infectious disease outbreaks at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, agrees, but with a caveat.

"If there are several people who are all in the facility at the same time, then that creates a crowding situation that might foster some respiratory contact," he said.

However, a pit stop likely carries less risk for catching COVID-19 than a night inside a packed bar.

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