Over 2 million Americans lack running water to wash hands, denied first line of defense against coronavirus
What is worse, people are forced to fetch clean water from the public taps, heightening their risk of infection
The pandemic has brought America's water troubles into the spotlight. About two million Americans do not have access to clean drinking water, putting them at the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The lack of clean water means that the two million people are denied their first line of defense against the new coronavirus, handwashing. Experts have time and again stressed that only 20 seconds of this practice is enough to kill the virus. "Every state is home to entire communities facing this virus without being even able to wash their hands, but the federal government has yet to form an emergency response that addresses their safety," George McGraw, who runs a nonprofit called Dig Deep, wrote in the New York Times.
The crisis hurts low-income communities the most, especially those occupied by people of color. "Nationwide, Indigenous households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing, while African-American and Latinx households are nearly twice as likely," he added.
The lack of clean water compromises the need for hygiene. “It’s just a Catch-22,” Virginia Tech civil engineering professor Marc Edward told Vox. “If [these communities] don’t engage in rigorous hygiene, they’re endangering themselves to coronavirus, and if they do, they’re fearful of the water," he added.
What is worse, people are forced to fetch clean water from the public taps, heightening their risk of infection. For instance, McGraw describes the plight of a mother and a son from the Navajo reservation in Southwestern US. The duo, unfortunately, died after contracting COVID-19.
The son, Larry Welch, was a disabled Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm. McGraw recounted how Welch was forced to leave the confines of his home to fill a 200-gallon tank from a public tap. He may have contracted the infection during the journey and exposed his mother after his return, costing them both their lives.
Many like the Welch family are suffering in the Navajo Nation. Though it is too early to link water scarcity and disease prevalence, more than a third of homes lack running water in the Navajo Nation, he adds. The region has more Covid-19 cases per capita than in any state other than New York and New Jersey. Other low-income communities --like Denmark, Flint, and Martin County, Kentucky -- are also feeling the pinch, according to experts.
A resident of Martin County, Kentucky, has been seeing brown and milky water in her shower and kitchen for nearly two decades. “This is not anything unusual for us,” BarbiAnn Maynard, a member of the Martin County Water Warriors, told Vox. Even after the pandemic took hold, she is afraid to wash her hands. When she takes a shower, she uses antibacterial hand-wash.
Given the situation, McGraw calls for more investments. "Investing in our water system is one of the smartest ways to help jump-start economic recovery, creating jobs, and generating economic activity. Most important, it will make us more resilient to future outbreaks of the coronavirus or another viral threat and provide those without water the health and dignity we all deserve," he added.