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11 Reopened Places That May Never Be Clean Enough

Even with stricter cleaning protocols in place, these spots may never be as clean as we would like.

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With about a quarter of the U.S. vaccinated (as of late April) and society reopening its doors as restrictions are loosened during the coronavirus pandemic, it may be a challenge to identify if a public place is really safe. Even with vaccines’ high rates of effectiveness, the existence of variants and the general unknowns about the virus still make it important to take precautions and remain vigilant, especially in high-traffic areas. Despite new cleaning procedures, some places may never be clean enough given the amount of human interaction and germ transmission on a typical day. Even healthy indoor air quality is a huge factor in this public health crisis as the disease has been proven to travel through droplets. After speaking with some public health experts, we rounded up the spots that just may never be clean enough. Check out our coronavirus guide on how to keep safe during the pandemic.

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Offices are known for high traffic in a condensed space and most employees touch hundreds of surfaces in the office each day. Although new guidelines will require proper cleaning of all common areas, it will only take one person carrying coronavirus to wreak havoc on the space.

“Offices will have to ensure that, outside of regular cleaning services, touchpoint areas such as keyboards, kitchen appliances, printers, desks, doorknobs, etc. are constantly being cleaned with virucides that are known to be effective against the coronavirus,” says Roman Petsakhovich, CEO of Onedesk. “These guidelines are difficult to sustain because these types of cleaning services are usually expensive and require very frequent service.” See how to avoid catching coronavirus at the office.

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Public vehicles

Even plastic barriers between the passenger and the driver in an Uber or Lyft won’t be enough to curb the spread of the virus. Areas such as the door handles, seats, and windows that frequently come into contact with individuals must be thoroughly cleaned.

“These kinds of guidelines are difficult to sustain due to the inability to gather the necessary equipment because of its price,” explains Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst.

Cleaning and disinfecting products are costly, especially in the quantities that are necessary to maintain a clean environment during a pandemic. It is also unlikely that the owner of the vehicle will be thoroughly disinfecting the car between rides. The passenger would need to place all trust in the driver without the margin for error.

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Public transportation

“You’ve got hundreds or thousands of people holding the same railings on public transportation,” says Tom Scarda, CEO and founder of The Franchise Academy. “On top of that, the riders are packed into close quarters. Even if the trains and buses are disinfected at the end of every day, by late morning they’ll be dirty or contaminated again.”

Unless you count on every single rider wearing a mask and sanitizing their hands before grabbing a pole on the subway, it’s unlikely that a clean space will be guaranteed. Even with the strict cleaning procedures, it’s impossible to disinfect public transportation from person to person. Know the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting.

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As the caution tape slowly gets removed from playgrounds and children flock to the swings, we all know that children are the epitome of germ carriers.

“When walking by, I have noticed some disinfecting wipes have been added in,” claims Kimberly Porter, CEO of Microcredit Summit. “But there is no guarantee anyone is using those.”

The playground surfaces would need to be cleaned constantly throughout the day and with children having so much physical interaction with one another, any sort of strict cleaning procedures would just not be sustainable.

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“It’s hard enough to keep restaurants clean,” explains Rex Freiberger, president of GadgetReview. “I have close friends who work in the industry at upscale restaurants, and they say they have zero interest in eating inside any restaurant knowing what they know about cleanliness or lack thereof. With tight turnaround times, it’s almost impossible to take the necessary precautions. This is even more true for bars which see lots of traffic coming in and out, people in close pockets throughout, crowding around the bar.”

Before the pandemic, bars could have been using the same set of glasses throughout the night, the same bowls for snacks, and just quickly wiping down surfaces as customers left. Cleaning procedures are stricter now, but most bars don’t have the extra staff to be disinfecting glassware and surfaces. Especially with a constant stream of people waiting for service, it wouldn’t be cost-effective for the business to take the time to properly disinfect.

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“My sister is a line cook at a chain restaurant,” says Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn. “She’s worked at this particular restaurant for almost five years now, and while they’ve had ebbs and flows in how difficult it is for her to do her job efficiently, she’s said it’s worse now than it’s ever been. With the COVID-19 precautions in place, she’s taking 5-10 minutes between batch orders (or between custom orders) to sanitize and ensure everything is up to snuff. These are precautions she wishes they’d taken before, but it was always about getting the food out as fast as possible and turning over tables throughout the day.”

Unfortunately, for many restaurants, it’s still about getting the food out as fast as possible to make room for new customers throughout the day. Even as people wait to be seated in a restaurant that is only allowing up to a certain amount of people inside, they are still congregating in one place.

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Even before coronavirus, it was difficult to see the gym as a sanitary place considering the abundance of shared equipment and bodily fluids coming into contact with strangers. Coronavirus can be transmitted through droplets, plus when exercising, it’s common to touch our face in order to wipe away the sweat. Surfaces at the gym will have to be thoroughly disinfected rather than just wiped down in order to meet the increased levels of sanitation necessary right. Between not having a staff trained in disinfecting, not having the funds to clean properly, and not having the time to shut down to clean, the levels of cleanliness expected at the gym are unlikely.

“Some places encourage members to clean the equipment after usage, but some may forget or not take it seriously,” explains Elliot Reimers, certified nutrition coach at Rave Reviews. “The staff has to clean and disinfect surfaces, and many gyms are closing early in order to be meticulous. Some gyms will have someone walking around cleaning surfaces at all times, where larger gyms may decide to close every 60-90 minutes to allow for thorough cleaning of the area. Cleaning surfaces will remove germs, dirt, and debris, whereas disinfection kills germs. Disinfectants require a specific procedure to be used in order to effectively kill germs.”

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“We all handle books, pick them up, look at them, put them back,” says Andrew Taylor, director at Net Lawman. “There is no way that we could quarantine every book someone handles. Think of the children’s section!”

It’s unlikely that books will be quarantined after each person returns them. Even after wiping the book down, without all the pages being properly disinfected, there is little guarantee for safety.

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Public pools

Many public pools are closed this summer, but they won’t be closed forever. Even with pools properly cleaned and maintained with the appropriate water chemistry, there will still be many people sharing this water along with the space surrounding it.

“Many public pools are not opening yet for this reason, although there are some that are,” says Michael Dean, co-founder at Pool Research. “For these facilities, a very strict cleaning and maintenance routine is necessary, as well as screening upon entry for COVID-19.” Check out what you need to know about staying safe from coronavirus when swimming.

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With many hands touching the same buttons, dealing the same cards, and pulling the same levers at casinos, it will be challenging to guarantee cleanliness between users—especially on something like a slot machine, where there is a constant rotation of people.

“Think of how many hands will touch that slot machine’s buttons over the course of a day or week,” says Brian DeChesare, founder of Mergers & Inquisitions. “Then, consider casinos such as Boulder Station in Las Vegas that has 2,500 machines. The germ-exchange among casino patrons is exponential and scary. Additionally, most casinos operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week so they’re without a window for a team to come in and do a thorough job cleaning and disinfecting.”

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Churches and other places of worship will be risky considering the large number of people condensed in a small space.

“Regardless of how much cleaning is done, an enclosed area where lots of people are talking and singing can produce a spray of droplets that may be impossible to avoid,” explains Garrett Greller, co-founder of Uncle Bud’s Hemp. “If an entire choir is singing for minutes at a time, the threat of being infected by aerosolized droplets can be extremely likely. When paired with the number of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus, a very clear picture is drawn.”

Next, check out these 10 signs that a store isn’t protecting against coronavirus.


Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who focuses on digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pick-up lines, and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists, and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.