When it comes to reopening America I have no answers. I have read hundreds of articles about this topic. I have watched hundreds of video reports. The search is on for a successful strategy, but coming up with a fool-proof scenario is sort of like searching for a needle in a haystack. 


That said, as we try to creep toward some version of normalcy, there is one topic that has been missing in all those articles and reports I've seen. No one is talking about this because we Americans don't like to talk about this. You may not want to think about this either. However, let me broach the subject as delicately as I can. Not to offend anyone's sensibilities, but what about restrooms? 


For example, I keep reading articles about the reopening of professional and college sports. The writers always tell about all the ways the players will be protected. They talk about social distancing in fan seating. They talk about disinfecting surfaces in the concourses. But no one has talked about what to do with public restrooms. 


That's the “eye of the needle” that may be the biggest obstacle to any reopening plan. The pace of reopening may be determined by how quickly we can overcome this roadblock. In a Detroit News article, veteran sports columnist Bob Wojnowski made a key point while discussing the return of Major League Baseball: “The sobering part: Nothing happens unless the virus approves it.” (


Difficulties abound. Take the Big House at the University of Michigan with a capacity of around 113,000 spectators. A look at a stadium map shows 15 restrooms. That's about one restroom for every 7,600 fans. It's not logical to think all of those fans are going to sit out in the cold and never have the need to use a restroom. Now think of the crush at halftime. Keeping fans safe is a monumental task. 


One small thing illustrates the complexity of this problem. Even if fans wash their hands how do they dry them? According to the Cleveland Clinic, microbiologists compared jet air dryers to warm air dryers and paper towels and how (any) virus can be spread. “The jet air dryer dispersed 20 times more virus than the warm air dryer and over 190 times more than paper towels, at six different heights (and nine different distances). The impact of the virus was greatest at about face-level for a small child.” 



So, when you enter one of these stadium restrooms the gamble is that each and every one of your fellow fans is doing everything they can to ensure your safety. An article in Time magazine noted: “Staying safe is a multi-layered issue of what you do for yourself, what you are going to hope that other people will do for themselves, and what, collectively, everybody does in the community.” Is this a gamble you are willing to take? (


This spills over into non-sports venues, too. For instance, I have been going to rock concerts for 62 years. I had two scheduled for this summer, but even before the virus hit I was already thinking that this might be my last year. My reason was that restrooms at concerts have gotten so disgusting that (as an old guy) I am no longer willing to wade through them. In fact, over the past few years I've saved my old sneakers to wear at concerts and then when the concert is over I throw them away. They are that revolting. 


Not to belabor the point, but you can relate this restroom question to all sorts of situations: airports, airplanes, expressway travel centers, you name it. There will be calculated risk decisions to make wherever you go. 


If there is any good news it's that where the restroom traffic is lighter the ability to solve the cleanliness challenges is more manageable. Small local businesses are uniquely set up for this and having clean restrooms could give customers another reason to support the places that are doing their level best to keep customers safe. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns at and