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Is the Virus that Causes COVID-19 in Our Water?


04/01/20 04:00:pm

Get vaccinated, wear a face mask, and continue to wash your hands often.  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 

I hope this helps to calm these concerns.

Be Safe, Be Understanding, and Be Kind.

Kevin L. Shafer, P.E.
Executive Director - Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District  


Water Transmission and the Virus That Causes COVID-19

What You Need to Know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Library of Medicine, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

Can the COVID-19 virus spread through drinking water?

The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies. Based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low. Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual. 

Is the COVID-19 virus found in feces (stool)?

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).

Do wastewater treatment plants treat COVID-19?

Yes, wastewater treatment plants treat viruses and other pathogens. Coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is a type of virus that is particularly susceptible to disinfection. Standard treatment and disinfectant processes at wastewater treatment plants are expected to be effective.

Will my septic system treat COVID-19?

While decentralized wastewater treatment (i.e., septic tanks) do not disinfect, EPA expects a properly managed septic system to treat COVID-19 the same way it safely manages other viruses often found in wastewater. Additionally, when properly installed, a septic system is located at a distance and location designed to avoid impacting a water supply well. 

For additional information:

CDC: Guidance for reducing health risks to workers handling human waste or sewage

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

COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Sites for Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County COVID Testing Sites

COVID-19 Testing Sites in Milwaukee County

To find locations for COVID-19 testing in Milwaukee County click here

TestUpMKE is a grassroots, community-informed, and multicultural effort to provide the most up-to-date COVID-19 testing information in Milwaukee County. Visit TestUpMKE for additional testing information and resources.

Map of Milwaukee County COVID Vaccination Locations

Explore Your COVID Vaccination Options in Milwaukee County

Learn what resources are available to support you getting connected to COVID vaccines in your area.

For the most up-to-date information on cases of COVID-19 view the Milwaukee County dashboard.