Two months after the first stay-at-home directive was issued in Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday he was authorizing a move to Stage 3 of the Back On Track Indiana plan to reopen the state.
Holcomb's new executive order allows Hoosiers to get back closer to business as usual. But clearing the way to limited dine-in service at restaurants and reopening parks, shopping malls and swimming pools doesn't mean Hoosiers will automatically return.
Some, now two months into hunkering down at home, will decide they can do a few more weeks if it reduces the risk they will expose themselves – or their families – to highly contagious COVID-19. For others, getting back to a pre-COVID-19 normal is dependent on something much more tangible: access to sanitary public restrooms.
It may not generate the same controversial debates as face masks and social distancing, but the closure of libraries, parks and their facilities, government buildings, fast-food establishments and numerous retail stores has meant many Hoosiers have been forced not to wander far from home because, well, they might not be able to find a place “to go.”
And just reopening those facilities doesn't mean Hoosiers will go blissfully back to previous routines after days, weeks and months of warnings about social distancing, hand washing and breathing in airborne droplets. Six-foot distancing in stalls that don't allow you to shut the door without straddling the toilet or urinals that have users standing nearly elbow to elbow? Imagine trying to enforce social distancing in the lines at movie theaters or event venues? Washing your hands in restaurants where the faucet and soap dispenser both require touching and the only drying option is hand blowers? And then there are the doors that require you to pull them with your clean hands to exit.
It is enough to stress businesses and their customers alike.
Marc Fisher, a senior editor at the Washington Post, reported this week that a Texas barbecue restaurant recently reopened only after hiring “a bathroom monitor, who assures that people waiting their turn are spaced well part.” McDonald's franchisees are reportedly being required to clean public bathrooms every 30 minutes, and “across the country, businesses are replacing blow dyers with paper towels, decommissioning urinals that now seem too close together, and removing restroom doors to create airport-style, no-touch entrances.”
“Public restrooms in this country generally have open toilet seats – no lids – and high-pressure flushes create a plume of droplets that extends at least six feet,” Steven Soifer, president of the American Restroom Association, told Fisher.
For those who've already ditched masks, gloves and social distancing, worrying about the sanitary condition of public restrooms is probably not on their radar screen. For the rest of us, well, you might want to keep those trips from home short and take with you a “to-go” bag ... you know, seat covers, personal toilet paper and lots of hand sanitizer. Be safe out there.