As society continues to grapple with the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts continue to strongly recommend that we practice social distancing, wash our hands carefully, and wear masks in public. In addition, their guidance regarding tap water and groundwater is unchanged as far as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is concerned.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies. Based on its current evidence, the WHO states that the risk to water supplies is low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that the virus is primarily spread through close person-to-person contact. CDC suggests transmission may also occur from touching surfaces or objects on which the virus is present.
Is Tap Water a Possible Source of Infection?
According to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual. The agency’s drinking water regulations require treatment at public water systems to remove or kill pathogens, including viruses like SARS-Cov-2.
Because there are no indications that COVID-19 will affect the water supply, the agency does not recommend that the public boil drinking water, use bottled water, or install home water treatment systems as a precaution against the virus.
Pathogens in Groundwater and Wells
While municipal water supplies appear to be safe, can the same be said for private wells and untreated public groundwater supplies that serve some 13 million households in the United States? Evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may be an enteric pathogen that can spread via the fecal–oral route. But to date, there have been no reports of fecal-oral transmission of COVID-19, nor is there evidence of the survival of the COVID-19 virus in water or sewage.
Based on data from the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from the feces of an infected person is expected to be low.
While there are no documented cases of COVID-19 transmission through contaminated groundwater, almost 50 percent of all waterborne disease outbreaks are caused by contaminated groundwater. Pathogens may be present in groundwater due to leaking septic tanks or sewers, livestock manure, and from poorly designed or constructed wells.
Risk of contracting COVID-19 via groundwater appears to be low. To reduce transmission of the virus, it is important to practice social distancing, to wash hands regularly and thoroughly, and to wear a mask in public.
While the risk of contracting COVID-19 through groundwater may be low, this doesn’t diminish the importance of guarding against infection from this and other pathogens by properly maintaining wells, sewers, and septic tanks. The EPA recommends a program of annual testing to ensure that water from private wells is safe to drink.
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