Advocacy Group Warns Covid-19 Shut Down Increases Risk of Legionnaires’ Disease

WASHINGTON, D.C. – State and federal officials have worked in tandem with scientists and public health officials for an unprecedented shut down of much of the country to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease this spring. One advocacy group is warning the shutdown could inadvertently increase the spread of another deadly disease.

The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease is a national nonprofit organization formed to educate public officials about the science and investments needed to promote a more comprehensive, proactive approach to fighting waterborne disease.

The APLD is warning that stagnating water in community water distribution systems that reaches residential and commercial buildings – from vacation homes and dormitories to restaurants and factories shuttered by stay-at-home orders – could increase the growth of Legionella bacteria and other pathogens. That could lead to the risk of Legionnaires’ disease when buildings are reopened and the stagnant water sources begin running again.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria entering the lungs through inhalation or aspiration. Legionella is commonly found in our water systems, and particularly thrive in stagnant warm water environments where it has access to nutrients and protective biofilm. Disinfectants introduced at water treatment facilities will dissipate over time, leaving no obstacle to bacterial growth.

Under normal usage conditions, regular water treatment and flow greatly reduce the risk for Legionella forming and creating a health risk. But with so many buildings and homes now shuttered for several weeks if not months, Americans could be put in harm’s way by turning on the faucets or shower heads when they return if they do not take precautions first, APLD warns.

Water utilities, government officials and users should embrace a “water source to water tap” approach coming out of the shutdown to limit the risk of Legionella spreading. States such as Illinois have put in place important water guidelines to help ensure water sources are cleaner and safer throughout the system.

“Legionella grows when water sits still, and the longer there is no water running through these pipes, it can become a breeding ground,” said Bob Bowcock, a nationally recognized water expert and board member with APLD. “When these water systems are restarted after the shutdowns, these bacterial colonies are disrupted and released downstream.”

APLD has developed a new open letter and resource guide with this warning and recommended best practices to help government officials, public health and water safety agencies, and organizations representing building owners and consumers as states and the nation prepare to reopen after the coronavirus shutdowns.

  • Water utilities should flush water systems, turn over their water storage, replenish disinfectants, and keep the public informed on the status of the water they are using.
  • Residents returning to vacation homes, dorms, and other living quarters that have been idled should consider flushing their water heaters and running water throughout their home – especially through shower heads – before using or drinking the water.
  • Building owners should follow the building standard known as ASHRAE Standard 188, which offers extensive guidance for reducing the risk of Legionella in large, complex buildings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides a “Legionella Toolkit” based on Standard 188 along with other guidance.
  • Concerned citizens should understand the basics about Legionnaires’ disease, the bacteria that causes it, signs and symptoms, and who may be at increased risk so they can try to protect themselves from contracting this waterborne disease.

The letter and resource guide along with many other helpful resources can be found at the Alliance’s website: A Legionnaires’ 101 toolkit of resources APLD has compiled is included at the end of this release.

“We have all made critical sacrifices during this difficult time to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible from this worldwide pandemic,” Bowcock said. “The worst possible outcome would be for Legionnaires’ disease to become a broader threat as we work to reopen our economy and get life back to some normalcy. We urge everyone who is dealing with reopening a shuttered building or home to take these simple steps to protect themselves, and ask our water and public health officials to take these extra precautions. Our national health and safety depends on it.”


Legionnaires’ disease draws national headlines with each outbreak, causing concern in communities with each case that results in death or serious illness. The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease created this brief toolkit of our best research and arguments to help you understand the basics of this waterborne disease and how to prevent it from developing and spreading.