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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

Drinking-Water, Recreational Water, and Wastewater: What You Need to Know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Can the COVID-19 virus spread through drinking water?

The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

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).

Can the virus that causes COVID-19 spread through pools, hot tubs, spas, and water play areas?

There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.

Can the COVID-19 virus spread through sewerage systems?

The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater. Researchers do not know whether this virus can cause disease if a person is exposed to untreated wastewater or sewerage systems. There is no evidence to date that this has occurred. At this time, the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through properly designed and maintained sewerage systems is thought to be low.

Researchers have analyzed the available information which suggests that standard municipal and individual septic system wastewater treatment practices should inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19. CDC is reviewing information on COVID-19 transmission as it becomes available. Guidance will be updated as new evidence is assessed.

Should wastewater workers take extra precautions to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus?

Recently, the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater. While data are limited, there is 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.

If my utility has issued a Boil Water Advisory, can I still use tap water to wash my hands? 

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.

For additional information:

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

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.