The COVID-19 pandemic is making access to water and water distribution even more difficult in communities facing a water crisis. People who feel at risk are less likely to leave their homes to acquire safe water, and many community organizations are finding their access to bottled water cut off or severely limited.
On March 23 2020, Michigan Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-21 (COVID-19) in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In response to this executive order, we are providing guidance below on the continued safe operation of the Water Box program.
1. The order directs residents to remain at home or in their place of residence to the maximum extent feasible.
a. Section 7-11 of the order provides and exception “To work or volunteer for businesses or operations (including both and religious and secular nonprofit organizations) that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, individuals who need assistance as a result of this emergency, and people with disabilities.” I believe that our program to provide safe drinking water to Flint’s residents falls under this exemption.
b. Section 8-6 of the order allow individuals to leave their homes “to obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves, their family or household members, and their vehicles. Individuals must secure such services or supplies via delivery to the maximum extent possible. As needed, however, individuals may leave the home or place of residence to purchase groceries, take-out food, gasoline, needed medical supplies, and any other products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and basic operation of their residences.”
2. Because we believe access to safe water is a basic human right, 501CTHREE will continue to support the Water Box program through this emergency. However, it is up to your organizations to determine the degree to which you are comfortable placing your staff, volunteers and community at risk of exposure. We support your decision if you choose to suspend or curtail the Water Box program at your location for the time being and will support resuming the program once the emergency has passed.
3. Should you decide to continue water distribution, extra precautions should be taken to ensure the safety of your staff and the public. To this end, we are providing the following guidance:
a. Contact between staff and the public should be minimized. I recommend taking the following steps to reduce person-to-person transmission:
i. Residents should be serviced one-by-one and prevented from coming into contact with each other. This may require that residents to stay in their cars or wait standing at least six feet apart until their water jugs are being filled.
ii. To minimize contact between the public and your staff, residents should leave their jugs for staff to collect and fill. Residents should return to their cars or to a waiting area while the jugs are filled. We suggest designating or marking a drop-off point for jugs such as a cart or table.
b. Extra sterilization precautions should be taken. These include:
i. All staff should wear sterile gloves at all times and masks if they become available.
ii. The mouth and handle of each jug should be cleaned with a Clorox wipe or sprayed with peroxide and wiped clean prior to being handled.
iii. The nozzle of the Water Box hose should be cleaned with a Clorox wipe or sprayed peroxide and wiped clean after each resident’s is serviced.
c. Residents should be encouraged to keep their jugs clean. Please check that all jugs have cleaning instruction stickers, and provide cleaning instruction stickers to residents bringing their own jugs.
It is possible that the lab we have been using for 3rd-party testing will close or reduce their hours. I have ordered coliform test kits that we can use in the meantime and will provide training on their use once they arrive. I am working to secure more cleaning sterilization supplies and will keep you updated on our progress. More jugs have been ordered and are on their way.
Thank you again for all the hard work and dedication you have put into making this program a success and a model for others.