Reliable access to safe water supplies for hygiene and cleaning purposes is extremely important to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The SPHERE Handbook recommends at least 15 litres per person per day for drinking and domestic hygiene. This summary provides estimated water volumes required for non-domestic uses in emergency settings (e.g. 100 litres per isolation room for a SARS patient). A single handwashing session may require between 0.2 - 2 litres of water, with some evidence suggesting that larger volumes are associated with greater removal of viruses.

Where reliable, safe water supplies are not currently available, action should be taken to increase access. Short-term or immediate solutions include mobilization of water tanker trucks and construction of new protected boreholes. Where possible, an extension of existing water distribution networks can help increase access.

Due to the pandemic, many buildings have been temporarily closed for a period of weeks to months, causing unused water to sit stagnant in distribution pipes. The chemical and microbial quality of this water may deteriorate over time. Prior to opening, each building should ensure their water system is completely flushed and refilled with fresh water. Hot water systems should be maintained at 60°C or higher (50°C circulating temperature) and cold water systems at 25°C or less to limit microbial risks. Water stored on-site during building closures may need to be treated prior to use. Testing water prior to building re-occupation can help ensure it is safe and meets all country-level water quality regulations.

Workers involved in water distribution, water treatment, or increasing water access should be considered essential and allowed to continue their work even if movement restrictions are implemented. Workers should continue following standard safety precautions including wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and should be trained on general COVID-19 preventative measures including mask use, physical distancing, and frequent hand hygiene. Workers should be encouraged to stay home if they or one of their household members are ill to avoid transmitting the virus to others at work. Due to the low risk of transmission from water, no additional safety measures related to COVID-19 are necessary. Because water access is so essential, water utilities and treatment plants should consider making contingency plans to ensure water services are not interrupted. This may include making sure there is an adequate number of trained staff members to operate and maintain facilities, distribution networks and other infrastructure, maintaining a stock of necessary supplies (for water treatment, water quality monitoring, and maintenance of infrastructure), and ensuring any disruptions to supply chains can be quickly addressed.

Want to know more about faecal-oral transmission of COVID-19?

Editor's note

Author: Jackie Knee
Review: Tom Heath, Robert Dreibelbis, Oliver Cumming, Karin Gallandat, Kate Medlicott
Last update: 13.08.2020

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