Cities across the United States are suspending water service shutoffs at homes with unpaid bills, in light of the public health threat of the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Guardian.
Without a vaccine or treatment, measures to prevent the spread of the virus are key, and frequent hand washing with soap and water is one of the most important measures to take care of your health.
The list of public utilities establishing a moratorium on service shutoffs is increasing, and about 90 cities and 57 million people in the U.S. will be protected from losing service during the ongoing pandemic. Nonprofit Food and Water Watch (FWW) called last week for a country-wide moratorium with service restoration for every household disconnected for lack of payment: ‘This crisis demands federal action to ensure every household in this country has access to safe water and can wash their hands. Universal access to clean and affordable water is a public health necessity and should be a national priority’. According to FWW, so far seven states ─ Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Louisiana ─ have mandated a halt to service shutoffs.
Detroit was the first city to announce the suspension of water service disconnections last week, covering the cost of restoring service for the first 30 days. Water service restorations have been slow to implement in this city but should pick up this week.
Some private water companies providing services to about 15% of US residents have halted shutoffs. Meanwhile, one out of five water departments have said they would reconnect homes that currently have no running water, while the rest will halt new shutoffs.
As the worst public health crisis in modern history unfolds, hundreds of thousands of impoverished people across the U.S. could continue without running water. Congresswoman for Michigan Brenda Lawrence has said ‘Suspending water shutoffs is the right thing to do, but reconnecting every household in the country is essential during this emergency in which handwashing is a primary measure to stop the spread’.
With no national figures available, it is uncertain how many homes in the U.S. have no running water. 2016 data from FWW indicates as much as one in every 20 homes were disconnected in that year by public water departments for failing to pay their bills, affecting an estimated 15 million people.