Oxygen for Water Treatment Diverted to Orlando Hospitals Dealing With Covid-19 Surge

Oxygen for Water Treatment Diverted to Orlando Hospitals Dealing With Covid-19 Surge
Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui, Getty Images

Today in dystopian hellscape news: covid-19 cases in Orlando have apparently gotten so overwhelming that it’s begun impacting the city’s water supply. Yes, really.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer asked residents to hold off on washing their cars and watering their lawns “for at least a week,” during a press conference on Friday, citing the city’s recent surge in hospitalizations as the cause. The Orlando Utility Commission, he explained, usually treats the city’s water with tanks of freezing liquid oxygen to make it potable. But right now, those tanks are being diverted to help provide oxygen to the record-breaking number of people in the hospital for covid-19.

“We acknowledge that the number one priority for the liquid oxygen should be for hospitals,” Dyer said at a news conference.

The concentrated oxygen in these tanks is a precious resource for patients with covid-19-induced lung damage — and one that we’ve already seen run low in other states, like California and New Mexico. The AP notes that the Orlando Utilities Commission typically plows through 10 trucks of liquid oxygen in a week to treat the city’s tap water. But now, anywhere between three to five of those trucks are going to be heading to hospitals instead to help keep covid-19 patients alive.

A staggering 40% of the city’s potable water is used for watering lawns, the largest “crop” in the U.S. The utility commission is asking residents to conserve between 25 % and 50% of normal water use per day. “Currently we pump about 90 MGD (millions of gallons per day), and our goal would be to not exceed 50 MGD,” the commission notes. If residents fail to heed the mayor’s plea, the city’s water quality could deteriorate.

There are layers of bad things happening here. Lawns are essentially a biological dead zone for native species. University of Florida ecology and conservation professor Mark Hostetler, told Earther lawns are “almost like concrete.” Yet residents in Orlando dump millions of gallons of perfectly good, drinkable water every day to keep lawns green. (To be fair, millions of Americans elsewhere do the same.) 

But beyond the lawns are the dark state of covid-19 affairs in Florida. Notably, Dyer didn’t mention another easy step these people could take to help keep hospitals — and thus, the city’s water system — from being overwhelmed: Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. Florida’s state government has been outright hostile when it comes to mandating these public health measures.

Gov. Ron DeSantis spearheaded a law that gave his office the power to invalidate rules meant to slow the spread of covid-19. Among those are allowing businesses to limit their operating hours or requiring proof of vaccination for people coming in. Either because of denial, callousness, or batshit political beliefs, the man still hasn’t budged. It didn’t matter whether the state was seeing 21,000 new COVID cases in a single day, or if the state’s hospitals and crematoriums are literally buckling under the weight of the sheer number of dead and dying across the state, or that the very businesses that make up the “free market” are suing DeSantis. But who knows, maybe a few wilted lawns will be enough to snap him out of it.