Page last updated: March 27, 2020

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This page will be updated periodically with limited general information, specific water-sector technical information, WEF events information, and links to trusted sites for the most up-to-date official information.


What we know today

Currently, there is no evidence that coronavirus survives the disinfection process for drinking water and wastewater.

  • The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water.
  • The risk of transmission through feces 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).
  • At this time, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 through sewerage systems is thought to be low.

No coronavirus-specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities.

  • Water resource recovery facility operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. These include using engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater.
  • Water workers should
    • wear appropriate PPE, which includes protective outerwear, gloves, boots, and goggles or face shield masks;
    • wash their hands frequently; and
    • avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Source: U.S. CDC, Water Transmission and COVID-19


Use the buttons below to access more in-depth information

Water-Sector Specific Information

WEF Events Update

Trusted Sources

General Information

FAQs

Note: The information posted here is a summary of current knowledge about this emerging viral pathogen. The state of knowledge will evolve as additional investigation and research is conducted, so continuous review of reputable sources and websites is advised.

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Water-Sector Specific Information

To help put the outbreak of coronavirus into perspective, WEF and its partner organizations have begun creating resources and compiling links to external sources that speak to the specific concerns of water sector workers. This list of articles, podcasts, webcasts, fact sheets and more will be updated as new materials are available.

Words On Water #134: Des Moines Water Works Shelters-In-Place to Respond to Coronavirus (March 27, 2020)
Ted Corrigan is interim CEO and General Manager and Kyle Danley is Director of Water Production at Des Moines Water Works. In this podcast, Ted and Kyle explain how the utility responded to coronavirus by activating a long-standing response plan and having essential staff shelter-in-place at its three treatment facilities. They discuss how 20 employees will stay onsite for two week rotations, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week to provide clean water and sanitation for 500,000 people in central Iowa. Ted and Kyle say the staff understand they are serving in a public health role and helping their community, and that support is strong from external staff, the utility’s board, and the union.

Blog: What We Know About Coronavirus and Water Treatment (March 26, 2020)
This blog by Rasha Maal-Bared, Senior Microbiologist at EPCOR and Chair of WEF’s Waterborne Infectious Disease Outbreak Control Subcommittee (WIDOC) puts in plain terms what we know about dealing with coronavirus in the water sector. The key points: there is no evidence that coronavirus survives the disinfection processes for drinking water and wastewater treatment and no coronavirus-specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management. Read on for more.


Water Sector Request: ‘Flush Wisely’ (March 23, 2020)
As the world adapts to dealing with coronavirus — social distancing, working from home, and self-quarantining if ill — the perceived hoarding and scarcity of toilet paper has emerged almost as a joke. But, if people start flushing unsuitable materials, the results will be anything but funny.

Webcast: Clean Water Act Regulatory Issues in a Pandemic (March 20, 2020)
During the coronavirus pandemic, water and wastewater utilities are currently triggering their response plans for continuity of operations. These events also trigger regulatory issues under the Clean Water Act as utilities work to maintain compliance during this pandemic. Utilities need to consider special conditions in their Consent Decrees and/or permits, consider regulatory obligations and maintain close contact with their regulators. This webcast will provide information on key considerations from a regulator and a regulated community perspective.


CISA - Identifying Critical Infrastructure During COVID-19 (March 19, 2020)
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), known as the nation’s risk advisor, has created this website to provide guidance on the essential critical infrastructure workforce, define the 16 sectors that are “essential” during the coronavirus — including the water and wastewater systems sector — and provide a detailed FAQ about what being included here means.


Webcast: Pandemic Continuity of Operations (COOP) Essential Personnel (March 19, 2020)
During the coronavirus pandemic, water and wastewater utilities are currently triggering their response plans for continuity of operations. A significant component during a pandemic is a consideration of critical functions that include essential personnel whose role does not allow for telework. Critical services must continue and COOP activities in the face of potentially severe staff shortages and absenteeism are of concern. This webcast will focus on the role of essential personnel.


A Message to the WEF Community About Coronavirus (March 16, 2020)

The Water Environment Federation is always focused on the health and safety of our members, whether at our events, in the water workplace, or here in the WEF office.

U.S. CDC Water Transmission and COVID-19 (March 11, 2020)
Drinking Water, Recreational Water, and Wastewater: What You Need to Know

World Health Organization Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Waste Management for COVID-19 (March 3, 2020)
This Technical Brief supplements existing IPC documents by referring to and summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health care waste which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses). This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers.


Words On Water #128: Coronavirus and Water Treatment (March 2, 2020)
Dr. Rasha Maal-Bared is Senior Microbiologist at EPCOR and Scott Schaefer is Wastewater Practice Leader at AE2S and Chair of WEF’s Disinfection & Public Health Committee. In this episode Rasha and Scott discuss the coronavirus, its origin, and the agencies involved in response. They explain why the water sector should pay attention to coronavirus, how treatment addresses the virus, and that water workers should follow standard safety protocol. Rasha and Scott say the water sector should stay informed of developments but remain calm.


AWWA Resources Page: Coronavirus and Water (Feb. 28, 2020)
The American Water Works Association also has compiled a set of resources on coronavirus to help water utilities be prepared. 


Webcast: Updates on Novel Coronavirus For Water Professionals (Feb 25, 2020)
This webcast, organized by WEF's Disinfection and Public Health Committee (DPHC), provided the most up-to-date information available on novel coronavirus from some of the most reputable names in infectious disease control and emergency response. It highlighted virus ecology, transmission, control, epidemiology, government agency response, and specific impacts for the water community. Speakers also provided the audience with additional resources and published recommendations about this ongoing outbreak.


The Water Professional's Guide to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (Feb. 11, 2020)
The WEF Disinfection and Public Health Committee (DPHC) Waterborne Infectious Disease Outbreak Control (WIDOC) Working Group has created a series of three articles that explain the current situation with a focus on how it may affect wastewater treatment and the safety of water sector workers. These articles also contain many links to developing research on this epidemic.

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WEF Events Update

The following events are CANCELED:

The following events are proceeding as planned:

WEF Events Update

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Trusted Sources

This situation is developing and changing quickly. The links below point to reputable and reliable sources of information that are updated frequently with technical guidance, public health information, and the latest research.

 World Health Organization (WHO) Technical Guidance

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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General Information

The coronavirus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) is the cause of a respiratory illness called COVID-19. It was identified as the cause of an outbreak first detected in Wuhan, China on Dec. 12, 2019. The disease has spread worldwide. This means it is important for water sector professionals to keep informed on the attributes of the virus's spread and illness as well as any measures needed to protect both workers and public health.

What Is the Coronavirus?
This video below from the World Health Organization provides the basics on the disease as known at the video release date of Jan. 31, 2020.

 

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are maintaining a webpage on prevention and treatment of coronavirus. In short, the prevention guideance is the same for avoiding the flu. 

CDC Prevention Guidance 

On Feb. 5, 2020, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its new wastewater working guidance stating that current disinfection conditions in WRRFs, such as oxidation with hypochlorite or peracetic acid, and inactivation by ultraviolet irradiation, are expected to be sufficient to protect wastewater workers and public health. The recommendation is based on coronavirus disinfection data from healthcare settings and corresponds with OSHA’s position on the susceptibility of coronaviruses to disinfection.

Based on new OSHA guidance (as of Feb. 11, 2020), no.

Wastewater treatment and collection system workers are commonly exposed to untreated wastewater that contains disease-causing organisms that could result in an infection. While the risk of infection may increase during some outbreaks, thus requiring additional protective measures for workers, this is not the case for 2019-nCoV.

WRRF operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater, including using the engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater.

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On March 3, 2020, the World Health Organization released a technical brief to supplement existing IPC documents by referring to and summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health care waste which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses). This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers.

OSHA has created a page dedicated to 2019-nCoV occupational health protection that includes links to PPE standards.