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Do school fountains spread COVID? Why one district is giving students water bottles

Avi Bajpai, The News & Observer on

Published in Health & Fitness

RISK OF COVID SPREAD THROUGH WATER FOUNTAINS

But what is the actual risk of contracting COVID-19 from a public water fountain?

Rachel Graham, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the prevailing evidence doesn't indicate a high "direct risk" of contracting the virus from a water fountain.

"That being said, it's not completely absent" she said.

Graham pointed to a study published by Cambridge University Press in March, in which researchers collected samples from playground equipment and water fountains — specifically, the dispensing button and the faucet on fountains — across six cities in central Israel that each had a "high overall prevalence of disease." Of the 25 samples collected from water fountains, one tested positive for COVID-19.

That doesn't mean children can drink from water fountains worry-free, Graham said. For one, because kids under 12 are still ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

If those kids become infected, they're susceptible to higher viral loads "in their mucosal surfaces, so in their noses, perhaps in their mouths as well," Graham said. "If they then come in contact with a water fountain, with especially little kids, who tend to stick their mouths on water fountains, that becomes a potential increased vector transmission state."

 

SPREAD OF OTHER DISEASES

It's also important to consider the spread of other infectious diseases Graham said.

COVID-19 may not be as transmissible through surfaces like a water fountain, but other infectious diseases like influenza and the common cold are, she said. And getting sick with the flu or a cold could make a child more susceptible to a COVID-19 infection too.

That's because "a healthy immune system is the primary barrier against any kind of infection, so if the immune system is already compromised, your chances of getting sick with other things increases as well," Graham said.

At the end of the day, it's better to be cautious, Graham said.

Even though the data doesn't necessarily show a high risk of COVID transmission through water fountains, she said she supports CHCCS keeping them shut for now and giving students access to bottle fillers instead.

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