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A sign reminds residents to 'Wash Hands Often' on the quiet streets of Monterey Park, California on March 26, 2020 as people stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

A sign reminds residents to 'Wash Hands Often' on the quiet streets of Monterey Park, California on March 26, 2020 as people stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

As Congress Drags Feet on Covid-19 Relief, 120+ Groups Urge CDC Director to Issue National Water Shutoff Moratorium

"Water is essential for disinfecting and controlling the spread of Covid-19. This is a basic matter of public health."

Jessica Corbett

With U.S. coronavirus cases and deaths on the rise amid continued uncertainty over another congressional Covid-19 relief package, 121 organizations announced on Monday that they have sent a letter urging Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield to declare a national moratorium on water shutoffs.

"We ask that you use your authority under Section 361 of the Public Health Services Act to impose a nationwide moratorium on water service disconnections for nonpayment during the Covid-19 pandemic with safe service restoration for all households previously disconnected," says the letter (pdf) to Redfield, spearheaded by Food & Water Action, an affiliate organization of Food & Water Watch.

The call from advocacy groups echoes a letter that Reps. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), chair and vice chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Environment, sent to Redfield earlier this month. The pair of lawmakers also released a related video featuring frontline activist Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder and president of We the People of Detroit.

Lewis-Patrick's organization, which signed on to the joint letter from advocacy groups, conducted research mentioned in the latest message to Redfield. The letter, which was sent to the CDC head on October 21 but made public on Monday, states:

Water is critical for disinfection and sanitation to control the spread of Covid-19. One of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's top recommendations to help stop the spread of disease is thorough and frequent handwashing, but without access to water, people cannot follow this simple—yet crucial—advice. Strikingly, research from We the People of Detroit identified a direct correlation between zip codes with highest rates of water shutoffs and the highest Covid-19 cases in Detroit, and found a substantial, statistically significant effect of water insecurity on psychological distress...

Water shutoffs pose a real threat to human health. Right now, thousands of people could be living without running water in their homes; they do not have water to drink, bathe, clean and disinfect, wash their hands, or flush their toilets. Households that have their water shut off will be even more vulnerable to the rampant spread of the coronavirus endangering the health and safety of entire communities. Seniors, pregnant women, young children, and people with diabetes and other illnesses are especially vulnerable.

The letter explains that as of the beginning of October, less than half the nation was protected from water shutoffs by a state or local moratorium, noting that over 180 such measures have expired. The groups estimate 177 million people in the U.S. are unprotected and hundreds of thousands of them are at risk of a water shutoff.

"The CDC must take urgent action to protect people right now," declared Food & Water Action senior organizer Rianna Eckel in a Monday statement about the letter. "Covid cases are rising and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing the water they need to wash their hands and protect themselves. "

"It is clear that the CDC has the authority and power to suspend water shutoffs across the country," Eckel added. "Water is essential for disinfecting and controlling the spread of Covid-19. This is a basic matter of public health."

"No one should be denied water during a pandemic."
—Rianna Eckel, Food & Water Action

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House has in recent months passed two coronavirus packages that included a national moratorium, service restoration, and $1.5 billion in low-income water aid. However, neither piece of legislation has satisfied Senate Republicans or President Donald Trump and members of his administration.

Meanwhile, rather than focusing on making a deal with congressional Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has obeyed Trump's directive to focus on confirming his U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day; the chamber is expected to vote on the judge as early as Monday afternoon.

"It is a crying shame that Sen. McConnell and the White House have so far refused to pass a strong relief bill with protections for the millions of families who are struggling," said Eckel. "No one should be denied water during a pandemic."

Alongside Food & Water Action—which maintains a tracker of water shutoff moratoria—signatories to the letter include the Center for Biological Diversity, Corporate Accountability, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth U.S., Greenpeace U.S., Oil Change International, Public Citizen, and various national, regional, and state groups.

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