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Tampa Bay elevator etiquette: Face wall, don’t talk, don’t sing, use toothpick

With workers and others trickling back into public buildings, here's some advice on thwarting coronavirus spread in elevators.

Just when you thought the world couldn’t get any weirder, consider what elevator rides might look like in the future for Tampa Bay.

The doors slide open. Only two to four people get on. (Anyone else who needs to be on another floor has to wait.) Masked up, they whip out toothpicks to push the buttons. They move to opposite corners and, like chastised children in time-out, face the walls for the length of their vertical journey.

No chatting. No loud-talking. And definitely no singing.

How risky are elevators in during the pandemic?

“Elevators are problematic, as they are enclosed spaces, usually with minimal airflow compared with other spaces,” said Dr. Benjamin Singer, pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Northwestern University, via email. “Fortunately, most people do not spend much time on an elevator during a given trip.”

Said Dr. Jill Roberts, molecular epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida College of Public Health: “It really depends on what polices we put into place.”

Some suggest using a knuckle or a toothpick to push elevator keys. [ SUE CARLTON | Times ]

As people trickle back into workplaces and businesses, changes are underway for elevators that once whisked riders packed shoulder-to-shoulder and got particularly crowded in the morning, at midday and at quitting time.

Some Tampa Bay area banks, high-rises and hotels are posting signs at their elevators specifying two- or four-person limits or suggesting limited riders in general, depending on the size of the elevator cars. In some, helpful footprints are being applied to elevator floors indicating how riders should stand facing walls or corners.

Tampa’s 28-story Frederick B. Karl County Center is where residents can renew auto tags, register to vote, get driver’s licenses and attend county commission meetings (still virtual for now). The county is limiting its once-crowded elevators to four riders each, with masks mandatory.

At St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum, one party at a time rides the elevator up to the third floor galleries, with security staff on hand to push the buttons. Except for people who can’t take the stairs, visitors are directed to go down via the spiral staircase.

At the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater, signs say four riders only. When potential jurors return to the Hillsborough County courthouse, they’ll find it’s two at a time.

“People are just going to have to be patient,” said Hillsborough Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta.

One of the smaller elevators at the Hillsborough County courthouse limits riders to one. [ SUE CARLTON | Times ]

So here are some elevator safety tips in the time of a pandemic:

  • Socially distance, even in a tight space. “You’ve got to limit who gets on,” Roberts said. If an elevator looks too close for comfort, take a pass and wait for the next.
  • Mask up. Experts agree that everyone on an elevator should wear a mask. Those who can’t should ride alone.
  • Don’t touch anything, or touch as little as possible.
  • If you push an elevator button, use a knuckle and sanitize your hands afterward.
  • Consider carrying unused toothpicks or coffee stirrers and use them to hit the elevator buttons. Deposit after one use.
  • Even though it defies social niceties, face the elevator’s corners or walls like those footprints on the floor advise. The coronavirus often is spread by droplets from coughs, sneezes or talking.
  • Facing the wall or corner also reduces your chance for conversation. “If I were to step into an elevator where people were having a big conversation, I might consider taking another elevator,” Roberts said.
  • Don’t chat, and definitely don’t sing, not that that’s a common elevator activity. Singing spreads air farther, which can spread the virus farther, Roberts said — as can loud talkers.
  • Remember, it’s a quick ride and not prolonged contact.

“Taking a short trip in an elevator is not likely to be very dangerous, especially if you take these precautions,” Roberts said.

And maybe more people will be inspired to take the stairs.

“Let’s look at the positive side,” said Ficarrotta. “A lot of people will be getting their steps in.”

Public elevators in Tampa Bay are being prepared for returning occupants during the coronavirus pandemic with helpful footprints promoting social distancing. [ SUE CARLTON | Times ]

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