Tear down that restroom door!
Back in June of 2007, when then U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho took his infamous wide stance in that Minneapolis airport men's restroom, much of the discussion centered on whether he was a closeted homosexual looking for surreptitious action.
An undercover officer said Craig had tapped his foot and signaled he wanted something a little more intimate than a helping hand reaching under the stall with emergency toilet paper.
I wondered the same things as most Americans. But I had another thought as that story broke and stayed in the headlines for a better part of a week: Why on earth would anyone, for any reason, spend more than one-ten-thousandth of a second longer than he or she requires in a public restroom? Get in. Get out. These are terrifically disgusting places.
The worst thing about public restrooms, the thing I fear far more than even dealing with a Larry Craig, is the dreaded door handle on the way out, the one you know has been grabbed and pulled and yanked and jarred by thousands of people who didn't bother to wash their hands. Which makes clutching the handle with an unprotected hand something akin to what Craig allegedly was looking for himself that fateful day.
Many people wrap their hands in paper towels as they pull open the restroom doors, which is a problem in the increasing number of places that now rely only on the hand dryer. This proliferation of dryers is a crime. Not in the law-and-order sense. But a crime against health and decency.
And I have an authoritative ally in this viewpoint - which makes me sane and sanitary, not an obsessive-compulsive like Howard Hughes, whom if you believe the Leonardo DiCaprio movie portrayal, would wait in men's rooms by the door until someone else entered so he didn't have to touch the nasty handles. I sympathized with that scene.
Is this crazy?
As it turns out, no.
Rodney Lee Thompson, a hospital epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., takes a dim and scientific view of public-restroom door handles, the hotels and restaurants and other venues that leave us with nothing but the hand dryer to protect ourselves.
"Remember that some people don't wash their hands at all," Thompson tells The Wall Street Journal. "So when you turn off the faucet, you contaminate your hands again; then you grab the door handle and you're picking up whatever germs were left behind."
Thompson proposes a solution more public places should adopt. In fact, it should be a law in Iowa. Or at least a building code or a regulation. Something.
"I personally think that public bathroom doors should open out so you can push them with your thigh," Thompson said in a Journal piece published this Tuesday. "Or they should not have a door at all, like airports."
I would go further and require all sink faucets in public restrooms to be automatic so one doesn't have to use the same knob touched before washing to turn off the water. Having to use those knobs before and after soaping and washing just flat-out doesn't make sense. Do you chug a can of soda after brushing your teeth at night?
As for the paper-towel versus hand-blower debate, the Mayo Clinic published a study in June of every known hand-washing study done since 1970.
The Mayo Clinic's conclusion: "Paper towels are superior to dryers. They're more efficient. They don't splatter germs, they don't dry our hands and most people prefer them."
Environmental concerns are counter-intuitive here as well, The Journal reports. It takes more energy to operate the blow dryer than to make a paper towel.
The best situation is just not having to deal with the door in a public restroom.
So, Mr. Public Building Owner, tear down that restroom door!
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