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COVID-19 And Water Supply: Here’s What We Know So Far...

COVID-19 And Water Supply: Here’s What We Know So Far...

The coronavirus began in China and has spread to 33 states and Washington, D.C., with about 550 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. [1] 

Many people now fear that the coronavirus will affect the world’s water supply. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the “presence of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies and based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low.” Additionally, according to the CDC, COVID-19 is mainly thought to spread between people who are in close contact with one another.  [2]

According to the EPA, there’s no need to frankly stock up on jugs of water. EPA recommends that citizens continue to use and drink tap water as usual. “Based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low,” states the EPA on its website about the coronavirus. “Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual.” [3]

Local services and utility companies, including the Philadelphia Water Department and Pennsylvania American Water, have sent out public announcements to reiterate that their water is safe. [3]

“International experts inform us that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods, including those used at all of Philadelphia’s drinking water plants, use filtration and disinfection, which removes or inactivates the virus that causes COVID-19,” states an email from the Philadelphia Water Department. The city is urging utility companies to halt shutoffs. Many are also suspending all nonessential field appointments. [3]

However, in the event of a severe pandemic, absenteeism in society would increase from illness, the fear of infection, and the need to care for ill family members. This absenteeism could affect drinking water supply and wastewater system operators and their capability to operate and maintain their systems adequately, thereby increasing the risks to public health. [4]

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada have helpful information for water and wastewater professionals who have questions about the potential for exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. [4]

In a FAQ page for health care professionals, CDC includes the following: [4]

Q: What do waste management companies need to know about wastewater and sewage coming from a healthcare facility or community setting with either a known COVID-19 patient or person under investigation (PUI)?

A: Waste generated in the care of PUIs or patients with confirmed COVID-19 does not present additional considerations for wastewater disinfection in the United States. Coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions in community and healthcare settings as other viruses, so current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities are expected to be sufficient. This includes conditions for practices such as oxidation with hypochlorite (i.e., chlorine bleach) and peracetic acid, as well as inactivation using UV irradiation.

Q: Do wastewater and sewage workers need any additional protection when handling untreated waste from healthcare or community settings with either a known COVID-19 patient or PUI?

A: Wastewater workers should use standard practices including, basic hygiene precautions and wear the recommended PPE as prescribed for their current work tasks when handling untreated waste. There is no evidence to suggest that employees of wastewater plants need any additional protection concerning COVID-19.

Stantec has published a whitepaper on coronaviruses with considerations and recommendations to water and wastewater professionals. The Water Environment Federation also published The Water Professional’s Guide to COVID-19 and the recording from its Feb. 25 “Updates on Novel Coronavirus for Water Professionals” webcast.

If trash services become disrupted, we would all need to consider finding ways now to start minimizing our garbage output. Using reusable water bottlesbags, travel mugs, and cloth napkins are all helpful.

You can also try using insulated containers to hold drinks and make your own filtered water at home.

"Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual."

While the EPA has stated on their website that “Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual.” An increasing number of US cities are discovering unhealthy, even toxic levels of contamination in their drinking water [7]. As a result, household tap water is no longer completely reliable. A water filtration system designed to treat the specific contaminants and levels present in your tap water is your best long term solution.

Here are some optimal solutions for your home and family:

Reverse osmosis systems work to deliver pure, safe drinking water and has now become a sought-after home item. There’s also distilled water, which is cleaner than water filtered by a countertop water filter or even a reverse osmosis water filter. In fact, distilled water is the absolute purest water you will find, free of any contaminants.

If you’re looking to make distilled water at home, we have put together the most comprehensive buying guide on the best water distillers available online.

90 US cities and states suspend water shutoffs to tackle coronavirus pandemic

Almost 90 cities and states across the US have suspended water shutoffs for residents unable to afford their bills, as local leaders scramble to tackle the complex public health threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic. [5]

The expanding list of public utilities ordering a moratorium on shutoffs means about 57 million Americans in cities, including Cleveland, Memphis and San Diego, will be protected from losing their water service during the pandemic. [5]

Seven states – Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Louisiana – have mandated a halt to shutoffs, according to data provided exclusively to the Guardian by Food & Water Watch (FWW), a not-for-profit organization tracking the situation. [5]

A handful of private water companies, which supply about 15% of Americans, have suspended shutoffs. But just one in five water departments has explicitly agreed to reconnect households currently without running water. The rest have only committed to halting new shutoffs. [5]

As a result, potentially hundreds of thousands of impoverished Americans will remain without running water during one of the worst public health crises in modern history. [5]

“Suspending water shutoffs is the right thing to do, but reconnecting every household in the country is essential during this emergency in which handwashing is a primary measure to stop the spread,” said Michigan congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who last year co-sponsored legislation to tackle America’s water crisis. [5]

“Clean, safe, affordable water is a basic human need … it is unacceptable and inhumane to shut off people’s water because they can’t afford the bill” 

There is no national database tracking the number of US households without running water. But in 2016, one in every 20 households were disconnected by public water departments, leaving an estimated 15 million Americans without running water, according to research by FWW. [5]

The highest shutoff rates were concentrated in southern or rural states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Oklahoma. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, only 10 US cities, among them New York, Flint and Baltimore, had banned water shutoffs. Mary Grant from FWW said: “We need an immediate outright nationwide ban on shutoffs, and must make sure that every household has running water to protect human health and our communities.” [5]

It is unclear what proportion of the country’s half a million homeless people currently have access to running water. Last week, Detroit became the first city to announce a moratorium. It included the state covering the $25 reconnection fee for homes without water, and a reduced monthly bill for these households during the coronavirus outbreak. [5]

According to figures from the Detroit water and sewerage department (DWSD), 3,600 occupied homes (or houses with water usage in the previous 12 months) have been disconnected since April 2019. Of these, a staggering 2,800 were still without running water when the coronavirus reconnection plan was announced. [5]

In its first couple of days of implementation, only 73 families were reconnected – partly because DWSD crews had to spend time installing meters in some homes, according to a city spokesman. Residents are being advised to flush the water pipes before drinking to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.

Detroit offers a moratorium on shutoffs

Detroit offers a moratorium on shutoffs

Fears of a coronavirus outbreak have prompted the city of Detroit on Monday to begin restoring water to thousands of households and offer a moratorium on water shutoffs. [6]

Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced at noon Monday as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the globe and US As of Monday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases in Michigan. Still, health officials say it’s only a matter of time. [6]

More than 3,000 households were without water because of delinquent bills. It wasn’t immediately clear how long it would take to resume service. Health officials have emphasized that the most effective way to combat the virus is frequent handwashing. [6]

“We know that washing hands is an important defence to this virus, so for the duration of the COVID-19 situation, DWSD is implementing this plan to help make sure every Detroiter has access to clean running water,” DWSD Director Gary Brown said in a news release.

Activists, city council members, some lawmakers, and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders were calling on the city or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to offer a moratorium.

“The notion that a City could shut off water on people amid a potentially infectious disease epidemic — EVER — is unconscionable,” former Detroit Health Department Executive Director Abdul El-Sayed told Metro Times in a written statement.

In a news release, Whitmer, who declined to impose a moratorium last month, said restoring water was “the right thing to do to keep families safe and protect public health.” [6]

Under the plan, the state will cover the customers’ costs to restore water service within the next 3o days. After that, Detroiters at risk of shutoffs may continue their service by paying $25. [6]

“Shutting off water and telling people to wash their hands to stop #coronavirus at the same time is a special kind of oppression,” the Center for Popular Democracy Action, an influential network of progressive community organizations, tweeted. [6]


Residents whose water has been shut off are asked to call 313-386-9727 to get service restored.

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