“Washroom closed, apologies for the inconvenience,” is what the sign in many coffee shops and gas stations now says. But neglecting a call of nature is more than just an inconvenience.
Yes, those of us who work from home and just venture out to the grocery store can probably hold out, but for parents with young kids, or anyone driving more than 30 minutes – perhaps with a large coffee in hand – access to a restroom is a necessity.
Public restrooms for unsheltered or homeless persons are deemed an essential service during the pandemic, according to the BC Ministry of Health. This is easy to understand – there are no other options. But what about truck drivers? Essential workers travelling to their jobs?
Washrooms in restaurants are open, because BC food premise regulations mandate it: “If food premises provide seating for dining purposes and are not subject to building bylaws adopted under the Local Government Act, the operator must ensure that washroom facilities are provided for the use of the dining patrons.” In other words, if they sell you a tea, they have to give you access to the means to cycle it out.
Coffee shops and fast food spots that used to provide seating pre-pandemic used to be a reliable spot. But now that many have moved to take-out only, access to washrooms has disappeared along with the seating. And that’s why publications like the LA Times are presenting articles titled “Strategies for peeing while out during coronavirus.”
Washrooms are high-touch areas and while business owners likely worry about transmission possibilities, public health experts have categorized the risk as about on par with other indoor spaces. But when they’re closed, when parents with toddlers in tow turn around and frantically search elsewhere, there’s another risk: that they will associate your business with that feeling of panic, and may be less likely to come back.
If serving food and pumping gas can be done safely in a pandemic, so can peeing. Business owners need to acknowledge their customers’ humanity, and there’s nothing more human than the call of nature.
The bigger picture? Public restrooms are desperately lacking and adding more barrier-free facilities would be a huge improvement for everyone, including those living on the streets. Pandemic-induced restrictions are not going away anytime soon; we can’t just expect people to hold on until things return to “normal.”
Whether in a coffee shop or some sort of self-sanitizing public facility, washrooms are non-negotiable, and in desperate need of innovation.
Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]