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Residents in Orlando, Florida, urged to use less water as Covid cases rise

Liquid oxygen used to clean water is also needed to treat coronavirus patients.
Image: Buddy Dyer
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer last year in Florida.Alex Menendez / AP file

Orlando officials Friday urged residents to slow their taps because a chemical used to treat water is being diverted to help Florida's growing number of Covid-19 patients recover in hospitals.

Crowded medical facilities in Florida sometimes use liquid oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients who have trouble breathing, but the same product is used to help make water clean for drinking and other uses.

"Our hospitals are experiencing the highest number of unvaccinated, critically ill patients at this point as any other point during the pandemic," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said at a news conference Friday. "Many of these patients require liquid oxygen."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has prohibited vaccine requirements by businesses and government and banned mask mandates in schools even as the state has set multiple records in August for new Covid-19 cases.

The Orlando Utilities Commission said in a statement to customers that "a regional shortage of liquid oxygen linked to the surge of COVID-19 inpatient treatments is impacting OUC’s treated water supplies."

Dyer echoed the commission: "Demand for liquid oxygen is extremely high as the priority is to use it to save lives and to treat critically ill patients. There are impacts to the supply that OUC normally receives."

Residents need to cut back on water use, particularly for irrigating lawns and plants and washing vehicles, Dyer said. If use doesn't decrease, he warned, water quality could suffer.

The city was doing its part, turning off water features at parks and limiting the watering of public grass and other greenery, Dyer said.

He blamed the unvaccinated for putting the city in a position of having to face possible water quality issues. Florida's comparatively low vaccination rate correlates to its higher rate of Covid-19 infection.

"It’s another result of what happens when the residents do not get vaccinated," the mayor said.