COVID-19 BASICS FOR WATER/WASTEWATER SYSTEMS

Key information

The COVID-19 virus is NOT KNOWN to spread through drinking water systems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says: “The COVID-19 virus 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.”

Can it spread through human feces or sewer systems?  POSSIBLY.

The CDC says: “The virus . . . has been detected in the feces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The amount of virus released from the body (shed) in stool, how long the virus is shed, and whether the virus in stool is infectious are not known.

“The risk of transmission of COVID-19 from the feces of an infected person is also unknown. However, the risk is expected to be low based on data from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). There have been no reports of fecal-oral transmission of COVID-19 to date.

“. . . At this time, the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through sewerage systems is thought to be low. Although transmission of COVID-19 through sewage may be possible, there is no evidence to date that this has occurred. This guidance will be updated as necessary as new evidence is assessed. SARS, a similar coronavirus, has been detected in untreated sewage for up to 2 to 14 days. In the 2003 SARS outbreak, there was documented transmission associated with sewage aerosols. Data suggest that standard municipal wastewater system chlorination practices may be sufficient to inactivate coronaviruses, as long as utilities monitor free available chlorine during treatment to ensure it has not been depleted.”

Should wastewater treatment plant operators take extra precautions? BE SAFE!

The CDC says: “Wastewater and sewage workers should use standard practices, practice basic hygiene precautions, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as prescribed for current work tasks.
“Wastewater treatment plant operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. These include using engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater. No additional COVID-19–specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities.”

For more information, visit the CDC site at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html

COVID-19 Preparedness for Water & Wastewater Systems (from VRWA)

Water and wastewater are essential services and need to be prepared in order to prevent interruptions due to COVID-19. Vermont Rural Water Association, Green Mountain Water Environment Association, and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation urge your systems to put the following measures in place to ensure seamless operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Emergency Preparedness 

  • Identify essential employees required to maintain continuous operation and designate an emergency backup or alternative shift rotations for these employees in the case they cannot report to work. 
  • Encourage personnel to practice good hygiene and infection-control practices. Encourage personnel to stay home if they are sick or exposed to someone who is sick. Provide work-from-home or sick leave options for those under quarantine. 
  • Limit meetings, gatherings and travel. Encourage personnel to postpone all non-essential travel and practice social distancing. 
  • Partner with neighboring systems, contractors, retirees, and the Vermont Rural Water Association to identify operators who can substitute for personnel on an emergency basis. 
  • Review and/or update your system’s emergency response plan and contacts. Identify key customers— hospitals or care facilities—with special needs. 
  • Update and/or create detailed written instructions for crucial operations (i.e. shutdown, water quality sampling, public notification). 
  • Consider emergency food and overnight necessities at 24-hr facilities. Stay stocked on chemical supplies, test kits, and sample bottles. Order products ahead of schedule to avoid delays should chemical suppliers and labs experience understaffing. 
  • Generate a back-up supplier contact list for essential chemical and operation needs. 
  • Discuss cyber-security precautions when using remote access. Back up critical files frequently as a prevention measure to restore data. 
  • Sign the VTWARN standard agreement and reach out to fellow operators if your system needs help!

WSMD - VTWARN Home