The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

COVID-19 in Municipal Water Systems

A policy brief by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy
in Partnership with the Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19)
April 21, 2020
Tennessee State Capitol and Flag
Using publicly available data from emerging research on COVID-19 the Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville have provided answers to some frequently asked questions regarding COVID-19 and municipal water systems. In addition to the answers to some common questions, the team has included a guide for further research.

What is the survival rate of COVID-19
in municipal water systems? 

Currently, there is little evidence available to determine the survival of COVID-19 in water or sewage. However, COVID-19 has similar morphology and structure to other viruses for which there is available information. Current practices are grounded in the evidence from these viruses.
  • Mode of transmission for COVID-19 is respiratory and contact.
  • Based on current evidence, risk of fecal-oral transmission appears to be low.However, gastrointestinal symptoms are proving more common than originally thought, and the virus has been identified in the feces of infected patients.
  • COVID-19 is not very stable in the environment and susceptible to oxidants, like chlorine, and therefore, is likely to become inactivated quickly in water.
  • COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water systems, though some researchers have detected the virus in sewage in cities with ongoing outbreaks (Medema et al. 2020; Wu et al. 2020).
  • Current practices for water treatment should inactivate the virus.

What is the risk to municipal workers and the public?

  • There has been no evidence of transmission of other coronaviruses (e.g., SARS) to wastewater treatment workers.
  • Standard hygiene practices (e.g., frequent and proper handwashing) and personal protective equipment (PPE) will protect municipal workers and the public.

Resources for more information:

Dr. Kristina Kintziger

Dr. Kristina W. Kintziger, PhD, MPH

Kintziger is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and the co-Director of the Doctoral Program. She has worked in academia and public health practice. Prior to coming to Tennessee, she served as an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the Florida Department of Health. She is an environmental and infectious disease epidemiologist.
Dr. Kathleen Brown

Dr. Kathleen C. Brown, PhD, MPH

Brown is an Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Public Health and the Program Director for the Master's in Public Health (MPH) degree. Her research focuses on the health and well-being of individuals and communities. She has experience in local public health in epidemiology, risk reduction and health promotion.
Dr. Katie Cahill

Dr. Katie A. Cahill, PhD

Cahill is the Associate Director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. She also is the Director of the Center's Leadership & Governance program and holds a courtesy faculty position in the Department of Political Science. Her area of expertise is public health policy. She leads the Healthy Appalachia project. 
Dr. Matthew Murray

Dr. Matthew N. Murray, PhD

Murray is the Director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. He also is the Associate Director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research and is a professor in the Department of Economics in the Haslam College of Business. He has led the team producing Tennessee's annual economic report to the governor since 1995. 
Dr. Agricola Odoi

Dr. Agricola Odoi, BVM, MSc, PhD

Odoi is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. He teaches quantitative and geographical epidemiology and his research interests are in population health and impact of place on health and access to health services. He was a public health epidemiologist before joining academia.
Dr. Marcy Souza

Dr. Marcy J. Souza, DVM, MPH

Souza is an associate professor and Director of Veterinary Public Health in the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.  Her teaching and research focuses on zoonotic diseases and food safety issues. 
Disclaimer: the information in this policy brief was produced by researchers, not medical or public health professionals, and is based on their best assessment of the existing knowledge and data available on the topic. It does not constitute medical advice and is subject to change as additional information becomes available. The information contained in this brief is for informational purposes only. No material in this brief is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and the University of Tennessee makes no warranties, expressed or implied, regarding errors or omissions and assumes no legal liability or responsibility whatsoever for loss or damage resulting from the use of information provided.
Howard H. Baker Jr Center for Public Policy
1640 Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone: 865-974-0931
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