Automatic paper towel, hand dryer and jet hand dryer in the public toilet

COVID-19. How quickly a new word can strike fear into people around the world. It has already changed my behaviour and that of friends contemplating travel this winter.

In June, I had planned to attend a ceremony at a synagogue in Groningen, Netherlands.

This was to honour my grandfather who died in a concentration camp.

In 1905, writer and philosopher George Santayana, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given the recent resurgence of racism in Europe, the synagogue’s placing of plaques in pavements outside places from where people were taken to camps, seems timely.

However, to be honest, I dislike travelling overseas, so staying home is not a great sacrifice. I just hope the ceremony is postponed so I can attend later.

Meanwhile my attention has turned to the welfare of vulnerable people in our community as Covid-19 is bound to arrive here sooner or later. Whakatane District Council and our public health system have been unnervingly silent on any plans to mitigate its spread. I am sure many actions could be put in place to keep staff and public safe.

I am especially keen to learn what they will do about our public toilets. I have learnt that drying your hands is as important as washing them and the dryers in our toilets are ineffective.

Mrs Google informs me of a 2016 report on the effectiveness of jet air, hot air and paper towels that is frankly scary. I have yet to see a jet air dryer in Whakatane but have used them in Auckland airport. They are the ones that sound like a jet engine, disperse water into the air upwards and sideways with a force that I know also blows away, and circulates, my loose skin cells.

My skin cells, probably about to be discarded anyway, are now the least of my worries. Researchers, cleverly studied the efficacy of hand drying methods, using a harmless virus called MS2 that only infects bacteria.

They found that, “not only do jet-air dryers spread viruses further, they also allow them to hang around for far longer, too. Air samples collected around each device up to 15 minutes after their use showed that, on average, there were as many as 50 times more virus particles in the air around a jet-air dryer than a warm-air dryer, and more than 100 times more than around the paper towels.”

Their conclusion: paper towels produce very little air movement and, as a hand drying method, win hands down. (

In our district we are provided with warm air dryers and from my observation, they often do not work and users rarely use them long enough to completely dry their hands.

I now have questions that I hope will be answered in the coming weeks: Is there a council plan to provide soap and paper towels, and to increase the frequency of cleaning toilets?

Are they going to ensure that there is handwash in each toilet? If so they might start with the ones at West End, which I know are deficient. Are they also checking the efficacy of their disinfectants, the safety of their cleaning staff?

I have also been in sports clubs and marae. At worst, nothing is provided to dry my hands.

Is the Bay of Plenty District Health Board public health office giving advice to councils, sports clubs, restaurants, marae and other places people gather on how to ensure their toilets will mitigate any spread of Covid-19, or indeed of ordinary flu?

I will continue to advocate for safe and hygienic public toilets until I am reassured that our authorities are doing all they can to keep vulnerable people in our community as safe as possible. Meanwhile, I will avoid toilets using jet air dryers and pack paper towels into my handbag. I suggest readers do the same.

For those who missed hearing Work and Income manager Paul Backler speak in Whakatane, he has graciously agreed to speak at another public meeting at 10.30am, Tuesday March 31, at St David’s Church Hall, College Road, Edgecumbe

Grey matters by Ruth Gerzon