Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

New research is boosting pressure on President Joe Biden to support a national moratorium on water shutoffs during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Teresa Short/Getty Images)

New research is boosting pressure on President Joe Biden to support a national moratorium on water shutoffs during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Teresa Short/Getty Images)

US Water Shutoff Moratorium May Have Prevented Nearly 500,000 Covid-19 Cases: Study

"These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere."

Jessica Corbett

As coronavirus cases are surging in several U.S. communities and President Joe Biden faces pressure to prevent utility companies from cutting off customers for lack of payment, new research from Cornell University and Food & Water Watch suggests a national moratorium on water service shutoffs could have prevented almost half a million Covid-19 infections and thousands of deaths.

"We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future."
—Xue Zhang, Cornell

"This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by [the] Covid pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group that has been tracking state and local water shutoff moratoria throughout the pandemic.

The Cornell researchers behind the work are Mildred Warner, a professor of city and regional planning and global development, and Xue Zhang, a post-doctoral associate in those departments who said that "we hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future."

"Our model uses more than 12,000 data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of Covid-19 infection and deaths," explained Zhang. "Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates."

Focusing on moratoria from mid-April to the end of 2020, the researchers found (pdf):

A moratorium on water shutoffs was associated with a reduced daily infection growth rate by 0.235%, and daily death growth rate by 0.135%. These small reductions in the daily growth rates were significant and had a sizeable impact on the cumulative case and death numbers.

Comprehensive water shutoff moratoria that apply to all water systems in a given state are associated with even lower infection and death growth rates.

A nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have reduced Covid cases by 3.97% and Covid-related deaths by 5.51% in the 41 states without full coverage of a moratorium over this period.

Extrapolating from model results, we estimated a nationwide water shutoff moratorium during the study period might have protected 480,715 people from Covid-19 infection and 9,052 people from death.

"These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: A full moratorium on shutoffs and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure," declared Hauter. "Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all."

The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act was reintroduced last month by Reps. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), with companion legislation spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The bill is backed by a diverse coalition of over 500 organizations.

While the WATER Act aims to deal with problems that preceded the pandemic, the public health crisis has elevated attention on the nation's water injustices, given stay-at-home measures and the importance of mitigation strategies such as hand-washing.

"Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic," said Warner. "This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention."

Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell, who both represent Michigan, in January led 71 members of Congress in reintroducing the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act, which would prohibit water shutoffs and provide water affordability protections for low-income households during the pandemic. In March, the pair led a letter urging Biden to include the bill in his developing infrastructure package.

The Washington Post reported Friday that "none of the roughly $1 billion in new stimulus funds allocated for water assistance has reached Americans in need, nearly three months after Congress authorized the first tranche of money," and noted that the Biden administration has so far resisted calls to instate a national moratorium on water and electricity shutoffs.

Tlaib and Dingell told the Post that they requested meetings with the White House and Department of Health and Human Services about the water assistance that hasn't been released.

"Dingell and I are requesting a meeting as soon as possible so we can understand the barrier and challenge in getting this out. It's been three months," said Tlaib, whose district includes parts of Detroit and surrounding suburbs. "On March 31, my families are going to be cut off from water—so we want them to move quickly."

Although Michigan's statewide moratorium on water shutoffs is set to expire at the end of the month, an extension is possible—and some communities will have local protections for longer. Detroit, for example, first took action to stop shutoffs last March and has since extended the city's moratorium until next year.

"I hope the White House works with us to make sure the water is not turned off in any state in America," Dingell told the Post. "We need to make sure nobody loses water."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·


Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·


Looming US Supreme Court Climate Decision Could 'Doom' Hope for Livable Future

"The immediate issue is the limits of the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases," said one scientist. "The broader issue is the ability of federal agencies to regulate anything at all."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo