COVID Surge Is Cutting Into Supply Of Oxygen Used To Purify Orlando’s Water

Portable oxygen tanks stand in a suspected Covid-19 patient triage area set up in a field hospital tent outside the emergency department of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Hospital on January 6, 2021 in the Wi... Portable oxygen tanks stand in a suspected Covid-19 patient triage area set up in a field hospital tent outside the emergency department of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Hospital on January 6, 2021 in the Willowbrook neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS

After four days of irrigation austerity, the Orlando officials are urging residents to continue cutting back on watering their lawns and other nonessential water use — because of COVID-19. 

The virus’ swell in the area has put a premium on liquid oxygen, which is used to treat hospitalized COVID patients. Liquid oxygen is also used to purify water. And there’s not enough to go around. 

“Right now, we need to conserve water,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said Friday, describing the situation as “another result of what happens when people don’t get vaccinated, become critically ill and require medical treatment.” 

Linda Ferrone, chief customer and marketing officer at Orlando Utilities Commission, raised the prospect of introducing a boil-water advisory if residents weren’t collectively able to cut back enough. 

On Monday, OUC said in a statement that “we have seen a moderate decrease in water demand,” describing the drop as “a good start” and urging residents to continue limiting their water use.

The public utility company said it’s aiming to conserve 25-50% of typical daily water use, but that it was difficult to determine how long the liquid oxygen shortage would last, “because it is tied to the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals with oxygen.” 

“As COVID-19 hospitalizations decline, we expect our supply of LOX to increase,” the company said.

OUC is also sending out text message alerts to residents, including the journalist Oliver Willis: 

Ferrone kept up the push Monday night. 

“If everyone does their part to reduce unnecessary water use, we can limit how much liquid oxygen we need to treat our water… and all that liquid oxygen can be used to treat Covid patients in need,” she wrote.

The alert recalled a much more dire situation in India earlier this year, when oxygen shortages in April and May preceded a spike in COVID deaths.

Like much of Florida, Orlando is in the middle of another COVID wave, the size of which surpasses previous surges of the virus in the area. Orange County, home to Orlando, has seen a 32% increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, according to New York Times data

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