Orlando Residents Asked to Reduce Water Use So Liquid Oxygen Can Go to COVID Patients

Orlando, Florida, is asking residents to limit their water use "immediately" because of a dwindling supply of liquid oxygen amid the state's surge in coronavirus cases.

The Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) issued an alert on Friday warning customers that if consumption isn't reduced, water quality may be affected.

"A regional shortage of liquid oxygen linked to the surge of COVID-19 inpatient treatments is impacting OUC's treated water supplies," the alert read. "To reduce demand for liquid oxygen, OUC is asking water customers to immediately limit irrigating their lawns and landscapes."

At a news conference Friday, Mayor Buddy Dyer explained that many of the patients being hospitalized for COVID-19 require liquid oxygen for their respiratory treatment and is a "critical part" of their care.

"This is another unfortunate impact of the pandemic continuing to surge in our community," the city's mayor said. "And it's another result of what happens when residents do not get vaccinated, become critically ill and need dire medical support and treatment."

In the past few weeks, Florida hospitals have reported they are being overwhelmed by virus patients. On Wednesday, 17,096 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state, a new hospitalization record, according to federal data reported from 230 Florida hospitals.

"Sometimes people asked what you can do during the course of the pandemic to help," Dyer said. "Usually, I tell them to get a vaccination. But today, I can tell you it's 'Don't water your yard for the next week.'"

Dyer was joined Friday by OUC's chief customer and marketing officer, Linda Ferrone. She said the liquid oxygen is used to eliminate natural elements of Florida's water, such as smell and discoloration.

Normally, Ferrone said, the utilities commission would go through 10 supply trucks per week of liquid oxygen to treat local water. Now, the supply has been reduced to between five and seven trucks per week.

The OUC is asking customers and commercial partners to specifically suspend use of water for irrigation, pressure washing and washing vehicles. Approximately 40 percent of potable water usage in Central Florida is from irrigation, officials noted.

Customers should be prepared to take these steps to reduce water consumption for the next several weeks.

"We realize that this is drastic, what we're asking for, and it's dramatic. It's unprecedented, but we also realize the time is now to act so that we can eliminate the need for our water quality to be impacted," Ferrone told reporters. "Our priority has to be on our health care system."

Orlando Asks Residents To Limit Water Use
Orlando, Florida, is asking residents to limit their water use immediately as supplies of liquid oxygen dwindle amid the state's COVID-19 surge. Above, medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Coral Gables Hospital, near Miami, on Monday. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images