Urban flooding events pose risks of virus spread during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


Han J(1), He S(2).
Author information:
(1)Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710049, PR China. Electronic address: [Email]
(2)Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710049, PR China.


Since the first report in December 2019, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to most parts of the world, with over 21.5 million people infected and nearly 768,000 deaths to date. Evidence suggests that transmission of the virus is primarily through respiratory droplets and contact routes, and airborne carriers such as atmospheric particulates and aerosols have also been proposed as important vectors for the environmental transmission of COVID-19. Sewage and human excreta have long been recognized as potential routes for transmitting human pathogens. The causative agent of the COVID-19 pandemic, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has been detected in human feces and urine, where it could remain viable for days and show infectivity. Urban flooding, a common threat in summer caused by heavy rainfalls, is frequently reported in urban communities along with sewage overflows. With summer already underway and economy re-opening in many parts of the world, urban flooding and the often-accompanied sewage overflows could jeopardize previous mitigation efforts by posing renewed risks of virus spread in affected areas and communities. In this article, we present the up-to-date evidence and discussions on sewage-associated transmission of COVID-19, and highlighted the roles of sewage overflow and sewage-contaminated aerosols in two publicized events of community outbreaks. Further, we collected evidence in real-life environments to demonstrate the shortcuts of exposure to overflowed sewage and non-dispersed human excreta during a local urban flooding event. Given that communities serviced by combined sewer systems are particularly prone to such risks, local municipalities could prioritize wastewater infrastructure upgrades and consider combined sewer separations to minimize the risks of pathogen transmission via sewage overflows during epidemics.