Health concerns for water professionals in light of current public health crisis due to COVID-19

Given the role plumbing systems played during the SARS coronavirus outbreak of 2003, we are tracking scientific news and research of COVID-19 to assess risks and how we prepare to keep people and buildings healthier.

Context: in 2003 there was a coronavirus outbreak, SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus), with ~8,000 cases and ~800 deaths, mostly in China and Hong Kong. Studies from the World Health Organization concluded that empty traps in buildings’ drainage plumbing likely contributed to the transmission of SARS.

We have compiled a summary of scientific facts on COVID-19 and plumbing, updated as of April 28th, 2020:

  • NEW INFORMATION: There is growing evidence that COVID-19 can spread through air. The virus’ RNA was found in tiny droplets on two Wuhan hospitals, the first real-world examples that airborne transmission might be possible (link to Nature publication below)
  • The quality of water in buildings which have been shut down because of COVID-19 may change, as it is left sitting on pipes for long periods of time
  • It is still unclear whether these tiny droplets could be capable of transmitting the virus
  • COVID-19 is found in waste water and can survive for 14 days
  • COVID-19 can be spread by fecal-oral route (as was the case for SARS); particles present in fecal matter can come into contact with hands or be spread through air when flushing
  • While transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through sewage may be possible, there is no evidence to date that this has occurred 
  • A drainage system interconnects many households via the sewer 
  • The only protection between the sewage and the living environment is a trap
  • Pathogens (including SARS-CoV) can be transmitted from one part of a building to another on sanitary plumbing system airstreams    

Some relevant articles and resources: