The novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) causes mild to severe respiratory illness with common symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you think you have been exposed to the virus and develop symptoms, stay home and call your healthcare provider for medical advice.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the best source for health-related information, including accurate and up-to-date guidance on prevention, symptoms, and treatment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water supplies and the current risk to drinking water is low. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that Americans continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual.
What Water Systems Should Do
The following resources have been gathered by WaterOperator.org and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) to assist operators, utility managers, board members, and other local government officials in understanding what water and wastewater systems should do during this unprecedented time.
The primary concern for small systems, especially those with only one operator, is what happens when they are sick. That’s why updated emergency response plans, contingency plans, standard operating procedures, and succession plans are so important.
- Update your plans, being sure the correct staff and backups are identified.
- Contact backups to make sure they are still available to help if needed.
- Consider joining a mutual aid group like WARN in your state.
- Identify technical assistance providers that can help you if necessary.
- Be sure the staff you have are trained to take on other’s responsibilities.
Having the right tools in place and having a plan of action are critical to sustaining operations and being ready to deal with this continuing pandemic. We recommend using the small systems plan template from Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP) listed below. Page 5 lists fourteen steps you should take right now. The Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan provides step by step instructions and is referenced in the USEPA checklist as well. In addition to this plan, they have developed a resource page that includes many of the best materials available for operators and small communities.
In these unusual times, it can be difficult to know what to say. Plainly share what you know and what you do not know. Don’t guess.
Communicating with Regulators
If you experience logistical challenges in meeting any regulatory requirements, communicate immediately with your primacy agency in order to determine next steps.
Communicating with the Public
Share the steps you are taking and refer members of the public to reputable sources of information about COVID-19 and water, such as:
In addition, this collection of FAQs from ASDWA may be particularly helpful in providing plain language responses to customer questions. Water systems are also encouraged to communicate with the public about the need to flush only toilet paper in order to protect wastewater infrastructure.
Carry a letter that identifies yourself as an essential worker at all times when working in public. Include an authorized contact who can verify this status, such as a local government official. Distribute a list of all essential workers to local, county, and state police.
* This template was inspired by one provided by the National Groundwater Association for well drillers and contractors.
Utilities should maintain a reasonable supply of backup equipment, spare parts, and critical supplies during this time.
- Contact your suppliers and make sure your regular supplies will be available as usual.
- If not, consider “stocking up” if possible.
- If needed, talk to nearby communities and TA providers for help finding alternate sources.
- Identify opportunities to be of help to other communities.
The full impacts of this pandemic will not be known for some time. Maintain detailed records, particularly of any changes related to COVID-19 response, for potential future reimbursement or issues pertaining to compliance.
Unfortunately bad actors love to take advantage of distraction to exploit security vulnerabilities and attempt to scam individuals.
- Don’t click on links in emails from sources you don’t know.
- Verify links by hovering over or typing them in manually.
- Be wary of anyone trying to sell something.
- Find your information from verified sources.
- Regarding online classes, confirm the organization before providing credit card or personal information. Call or email a known number/address to verify.
There is an overwhelming amount of information being created and disseminated at this moment. Once you have the basics covered, here are some of the recent preparedness webinars we recommend you and your staff watch for additional tips, ideas, and things to consider:
And here are a few relevant checklists to quickly review:
Every water organization has gathered information and resources, including every state. We’ve attempted to streamline this information in our suggestions above, but here are links to those pages:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA)
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Find a list of effective disinfectants for use against the coronavirus in addition to drinking water and wastewater related resources.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Rural Development COVID-19 Response
Find USDA’s guidance and policy updates in response to COVID-19, including funding opportunities that pertain to rural communities
Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA)
Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Drinking Water
Click on your state to access local response information and resources regarding COVID-19. Much of this information is relevant for wastewater and drinking water.
Water Environment Federation (WEF)
Current Priority: Coronavirus
Find updates on COVID-19 transmission and disinfection in water and wastewater as well as relevant COVID-19 links, webcast recordings, podcasts, and informational resources.
The Water Professional’s Guide to COVID-19
Use this guide to find current information about the disinfection, transmission, and recommended safety practices for the management of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
Water’s Worth It Toolkit
These materials are designed to raise public awareness about the vital role of water utilities and workers in the coronavirus response.
American Water Works Association (AWWA)
Operators will find general COVID-19 information, emergency preparedness resources, upcoming webinars, and webinar recordings on continuity of operations.
Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP)
Advocacy and Policy Update: COVID-19 Response
This blog post on WaterOperator.org provides a summary of enacted legislation related to the pandemic to date and what that means to you. Also, find out how RCAP has been promoting the needs of rural water systems and small communities during this ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
National Rural Water Association (NRWA)
Find contingency planning templates, communication toolkits, and information about the COVID-19 outbreak.
How to Get Help
For technical assistance or training needs relating to COVID-19 response for your water or wastewater system, please contact the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on RCAP’s assistance can be found at https://www.rcap.org/.