What We Know So Far About Covid-19 In Our Waters
Updated: Sep 29
Image: Jamaica Bay NYC DEP, 2018
Data are being gathered by a wide array of experts across the globe on the topic of covid-19 in our waterways right now. As soon as confirmed and verified results are available, SWIM and our partners will share the information widely.
On April 27th and 30th, the Water Research Foundation is hosting an international virtual summit about Environmental Surveillance of COVID-19 Indicators in Sewersheds. You can register for the seminars here.
Below is preliminary information and some links to various articles that have been published on this topic so far.
SWIM Coalition member, Hudson Riverkeeper, is actively studying the available information on the risks the COVID-19 virus may pose to individuals or communities via sewage-contaminated water. Other SWIM members are participating in discussions via the EPA's Urban Waters Partnership and the national Citizen Science network. We will convey what we learn in a timely manner to our members, partners and waterway stakeholders in NYC. Be sure to sign up for our monthly e-blasts here.
In the meantime, it is highly advisable to carefully consider when, where, if, and how we should interact with our waterways. Wear a mask, goggles, and gloves if you are going to come into contact with the water in any way. Especially if there is a known sewage overflow in the area. Aerosolization of sewage is a potential vector for COVID-19 and is being studied now, so avoid sewage outfalls to the extent possible.
Here is a link to Riverkeeper's blog post on this topic and below is a snapshot of their answer to the following question:
Is the COVID-19 virus present in water?
"The COVID-19 virus is a pathogen that may be present in water affected by sewage, such as the Hudson River, its tributaries, and other waterways around New York City.
The RNA of the COVID-19 virus has been detected in human feces and sewage, which could indicate the presence of either nonviable virus, or virus that remains infectious. It isn’t known if the COVID-19 virus remains infectious in sewage, or in the water or air influenced by sewage.
Bottom line: While any potential exposure risk is likely to be substantially lower than for other modes of transmission (such as interpersonal contact), the available evidence at this time suggests a potential risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus in sewage-contaminated water.
Globally, there is need for additional research on the COVID-19 virus and its interactions with both sewage and water. These include defining whether the virus can remain infectious in sewage or water at concentrations that present a risk, and whether various disinfection processes are specifically effective against the COVID-19 virus."
We realize how vital our waterways and waterfronts are as places of refuge at this time of stay at home orders throughout the City, but we must be vigilant in our commitment to follow the City's social distancing rules and orders to wear masks when we venture out into our public spaces. Surfrider has information on the latest research about COVID 19 and water quality on their website. They also have some guidance on social distancing, beach access, and surfing right now.
Sewage Advisories for NYC waterways:
While New Yorkers have access to some information about sewer overflows in NYC's waterways via the DEP's waterbody advisory system, and it is always good to check this advisory before going into the waters at any time, the advisory data is based on rainfall gauges at the wastewater treatment plants and modeling rather than realtime information. DEP is working to improve their advisory system and has received vital public input on the need for more accurate real time data.
We will continue to update water contact guidance as it becomes available but highly recommend that anyone going near a local waterway use all forms of protection in order to avoid any contact until we know the level of risk the virus may pose in waterborne and aerosol form.
Below are links to information and articles about the latest research on COVID in our waters and wastewater systems: