When most people think of a flush at Mohegan Sun, it centers on drawing a hand of the same colored cards at the poker table. But when you’re trying to make your hotel and casino as safe as possible in a pandemic for the 9 million visitors Mohegan Sun draws each year, attention must be paid to the other flush — the toilet kind, just one of the considerations the Uncasville resort addressed before reopening in early June.
“We have taken rigorous precautions throughout our property, and specifically within Mohegan Sun restrooms, those precautions include the implementation of physical distancing, touchless features, enhanced sanitation and more, all to curb the spread of this virus and provide a safe, enjoyable environment for our guests,” says Jeff Hamilton, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun. “We deactivated every other sink and urinal in each public restroom (covering each with plastic sheets) for greater physical distancing, and trained restroom staff to politely communicate with guests who may forget to wash their hands or wear a mask.”
Hamilton says that installing ultraviolet light emitters in Mohegan Sun’s ventilation and air-handling systems, hailed as effective in eliminating viruses and bacteria, including the coronavirus, along with state-of-the-art automated thermal temperature screens at all entrances and disinfectant misting in the hotel and casino, will also have a trickle-down effect in boosting the safety of the resort’s public restrooms.
As schools, office buildings, movie theaters, shopping centers, sports arenas, restaurants and rest stops scramble to make communal bathrooms safer as society continues to reopen in the wake of COVID-19, Connecticut’s larger institutions with high volumes of visitors like Mohegan Sun and Bradley International Airport seem to be taking the lead in the ongoing evolution of the American public restroom.
At Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, a two-year, $5.8 million renovation of all terminal restrooms was in the works before the pandemic hit, but the timing of the new virtually touchless bathrooms’ opening this spring coincided well with public concerns over traveling in the COVID era.
While the design and features of Bradley’s redesigned restrooms might strike travelers as sparkling new and sleek, most of the elements in the renovation are focused on comfort, cleanliness and safety, including during the ongoing pandemic.
Handwashing elements, from faucets to soap dispensers to hand-towel dispensers or air dryers, are all touchless. Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, says that “European-style partitions,” walls between stalls that are very low to the floor, not only afford greater privacy, but better safety for users, since airborne particles are less likely to travel from stall to stall when there is more open space at the bottom or top of a stall wall or door.
One of the most eye-catching features of the new Bradley restrooms are its “tush lights,” which alert other restroom visitors when a stall is in use. “It’s pretty basic — when a light is green, the stall is vacant and ready to be used, but when the light is red, someone is in there,” Dillon says. “But the benefit of the tush lights is really that someone won’t have to knock on the stall door, pull on the handle or bend down or peek over to see if it’s occupied. The tush lights add another no touch element, which of course enhances safety from a health perspective.”
Less noticeable features, such as the smooth surfaces that replaced tile work with grout lines, make for easier and more effective cleaning. “When we set out to completely renovate and redesign the restrooms at Bradley several years ago, we tapped into our passenger satisfaction surveys, and the cleanliness and privacy of restrooms ranked very high on those,” Dillon explains, noting that pre-pandemic, approximately 6.7 million passengers annually traveled through Bradley. “Obviously, now that we’re all faced with the realities of COVID, cleanliness, privacy and safety in any indoor public area, including restrooms, become something we’re even more concerned about and focused on.”
Hamilton notes that other hotels and casinos, including several in the Mohegan Sun group, operating throughout the U.S., Canada and soon South Korea, have reached out to discuss the physical and procedural changes put in place at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun. “We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the ‘new normal,’ with the safety of our guests always of paramount importance,” he says.
Concerns about using public restrooms in the time of COVID are justified, and health experts continue to monitor and study what changes in design and practices might be recommended as more about the spread of the virus becomes known. “But not wearing a mask and not maintaining physical distance while out and about is exponentially more risky than using a public restroom,” according to Dr. Shan Soe-Lin, a trained immunologist and lecturer in global studies at Yale University.
“It has been known for some time that COVID-infected people do shed viral particles in stool and urine, but it hasn't been conclusively established that these particles are capable of infecting other people if inhaled,” explains Soe-Lin, who is also a managing director at a nonprofit global health advisory firm based in Boston. “However, it is also known that flushing toilets, particularly powerful ones in public restrooms, can send aerosol ‘plumes’ up several feet in the air [a haunting mental image, if there ever was one], so caution is likely warranted given the seriousness of the COVID threat.”
Soe-Lin and other experts stress that people should wear masks while inside a public restroom, and employ the same protocols as you would in any bathroom, such as touching as few surfaces as possible. She also recommends a "flush and flee" approach: lower the lid of the toilet, if there is a lid, before flushing; face away from the toilet when flushing, even for ones that do so automatically; and wash your hands quickly but thoroughly before exiting the bathroom as rapidly as possible. “That makes sense always, in the COVID pandemic or not,” Soe-Lin says.