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People are wearing face masks. People are washing their hands multiple times a day to kill viruses. These steps are necessary and important to help contain and kill the COVID-19 virus.
Some are wondering about the spread of COVID-19 in water and wastewater. What is important to remember is that drinking water utilities disinfect the water we drink prior to it being delivered to our homes. Wastewater utilities disinfect the water prior to it being released back to the environment. This is very similar to using disinfectant wipes or soap at home.
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is providing weekly wastewater samples to the School of Freshwater Sciences since March 2020. These samples are a part of a state-wide effort to establish a monitoring program for COVID-19 in wastewater as an early warning indicator of future waves of the disease. The School of Freshwater Sciences is partnering with the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and others for this ongoing effort.
Below are some questions and responses that I have seen nationally. For local, Milwaukee County COVID-19 updates visit https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/COVID-19.
I hope this helps to calm these concerns.
Be Safe, Be Understanding, and Be Kind.
Kevin L. Shafer, P.E.
Executive Director - MMSD
Drinking-Water, Recreational Water, and Wastewater: What You Need to Know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in treated drinking water. Water treatment plants use filters and disinfectants to remove or kill germs, like the virus that causes COVID-19. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates water treatment plants to ensure that treated water is safe to drink.
Currently, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people by drinking treated water. COVID-19 is spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person. COVID-19 is spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person. You can continue to use and drink water from your tap as usual.
CDC is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread to people through the water in lakes, oceans, rivers, or other natural bodies of water.
The virus mainly spreads when respiratory droplets from infected people land in the mouths or noses of others or possibly when inhaled into the lungs by others. If a public beach or other swim areas in a natural body of water is open, it is important for all visitors and staff to take steps to slow the spread of the virus.
CDC is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Plus, proper operation of public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds (such as at an apartment complex or owned by a community) and disinfection of the water (with chlorine or bromine) should inactivate the virus. See Considerations for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds for more information.
The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in the feces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19. However, it is unclear whether the virus found in feces may be capable of causing COVID-19. There has not been any confirmed report of the virus spreading from feces to a person. Scientists also do not know how much risk there is that the virus could be spread from the feces of an infected person to another person. However, they think this risk is low based on data from previous outbreaks of diseases caused by related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can be shed in the feces of individuals with COVID-19. Genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 has been found in untreated wastewater. However, while data are limited, there is little evidence of the infectious virus in wastewater and no information to date that anyone has become sick with COVID-19 because of exposure to wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants use chemical and other disinfection processes to remove and degrade many viruses and bacteria. SARS-CoV-2 is inactivated by the disinfection methods used in wastewater treatment. At this time, the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through properly designed and maintained wastewater systems is thought to be low.
Recently, ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater. While data are limited, there is little evidence of the infectious virus in wastewater and no information to date that anyone has become sick with COVID-19 because of exposure to wastewater.
Standard practices associated with wastewater treatment plant operations should be sufficient to protect wastewater workers from the virus that causes COVID-19. These standard practices can include engineering and administrative controls, hygiene precautions, specific safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) normally required when handling untreated wastewater. No additional COVID-19–specific protections are recommended for workers involved in wastewater management, including those at wastewater treatment facilities.
See Information for Wastewater and Sanitation System Workers on COVID-19 for additional information.
In most cases, it is safe to wash your hands with soap and tap water during a Boil Water Advisory. Follow the guidance from your local public health officials. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through water, including floodwater.
Sometimes floodwater can mix with wastewater. CDC is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus being spread by swallowing or coming in contact with water contaminated by feces from an infected person. Stay out of floodwater to avoid hazards and illnesses from contaminants that are not associated with COVID-19.
CDC: Guidance for reducing health risks to workers handling human waste or sewage
CDC: Healthcare professionals: Frequently asked questions and answers
CDC: Healthy Water
Environmental Protection Agency: Coronavirus and Drinking Water and Wastewater
Occupational Safety and Health Administration: COVID-19 Control and Prevention: Solid waste and wastewater management workers and employers external icon
World Health Organization: Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for COVID-19external icon
To find locations for COVID-19 testing in Milwaukee County click here.
For the most up-to-date information on cases of COVID-19 view the Milwaukee County dashboard.
To keep Wisconsin open, we must stay safe and continue to protect ourselves and others in our community from COVID-19. Keep yourself, your loved ones, and our community safe by following public health guidelines and taking protective measures.