Reminders for safe building re-openings after COVID-19 closures
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) wants to support the safe reopening of buildings that may have been closed for an extended period of time due to COVID-19 related restrictions.
Low, or no water use in vacant or underused buildings increases the risk to plumbing systems and the potential for Legionella.
Legionella bacteria occur naturally in the environment, usually in water. Legionella can cause a type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease, and a flu-like illness without pneumonia called Pontiac Fever.
People are exposed by breathing tiny water droplets contaminated with Legionella from water fixtures such as showers, hot tubs, and decorative fountains.
Building users may be at higher risk of exposure because of stagnant water conditions during the COVID-19 related shutdown and when full use resumes.
“Just as closing so many of our commercial buildings and schools has been necessary for the health of the public, we need to make sure we are re-opening our buildings and schools in a way that also keeps people safe and healthy,” says Lauren Jenks, Assistant Secretary for Environmental Public Health.
There are ways to safely resume water service in buildings that were closed or underused during the pandemic. When owners and maintenance staff reopen buildings, they should follow safety guidance to prevent Legionella and other opportunistic waterborne infections like:
- When opening buildings back up, give yourself two to three weeks lead time to start up the water plumbing system and make sure there is time for testing and possible disinfection if needed.
- Once all start up efforts are complete, evaluate the effectiveness of your procedures by testing for Legionella using an approved culture method.
DOH employees are reaching out to commercial building owners and maintenance managers with information on how to avoid a potential health risk related to limited water use inside larger buildings with complex plumbing.
- Guidance for Legionella and Building Water System Closures (WA DOH): https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/331-658.pdf
- Guidance for Reopening School Water Systems (WA DOH) https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/331-667.pdf
- CDC information on safe building reopening in the context of COVID: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/building-water-system.html
Read more about Legionella here.