Orlando mayor asks residents to conserve water amid COVID surge

OUC experiencing ‘unprecedented event’ caused by surge in infections

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer held a news conference Friday afternoon at City Hall to address an issue the Orlando Utilities Commission is facing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dyer was joined by OUC Chief Customer & Marketing Officer Linda Ferrone. The pair explained that OUC uses liquid oxygen in its water treatment process.

“Our hospitals are experiencing the highest number of unvaccinated critically ill patients at this point, as any other point during a pandemic. Many of these patients require liquid oxygen for their respiratory treatment,” Dyer said “This liquid oxygen is a critical part of the care that hospitals are providing to try to fight the deadly disease and to save lives.”

The mayor said that this added need for liquid oxygen at hospitals is impacting OUC’s supply.

“So what does that mean to us here in Orlando? It means that there could be impacts to our water quality if we don’t immediately reduce the amount of water that we need to treat,” Dyer said.

Dyer asked that all city residents cut down activities such as irrigation or pressure washing to ease the burden on OUC. He also urged residents to take action to help ease the burden on area hospitals.

“We also need to get vaccinated if you have not been vaccinated,” Dyer said.

The city is also cutting back its water usage — cutting back water usage at parks and turning off water features.

Ferrone said people should expect these water conservation acts “for at least several weeks.”

“We’ll continue to evaluate the situation as we make our way through those several weeks,” she added.

Additional information on water quality and conservation efforts can be found here.

News 6 asked Central Florida hospital systems about their need for liquid oxygen and if they have enough supply for the recent rise in COVID cases.

An Orlando Health spokesperson said the hospital chain has an adequate supply but said the demand is up because of COVID-19 patients.

“As the number of COVID-19 positive patients has significantly increased nationwide, so has the demand for the liquid oxygen used in the treatment of many of these patients. Orlando Health continues to maintain an adequate supply of liquid oxygen across our network of hospitals and does not anticipate the increased demand having any impact on patient care,” the Orlando Health statement read.

“To aid the City of Orlando in its request to reduce water usage, Orlando Health will seek to implement a combination of manageable water conservation measures across our health system. These measures will have a minimal impact to the operations of our health system and will be continuously evaluated and adjusted as needed to ensure the best use of our resources according to the needs of our patients,” the statement continued.

Parrish Healthcare in Brevard County reports it has the appropriate level of oxygen to meet patients’ needs but demand is up 240% from its normal usage.

“As a point of reference, prior to July 2021, we were using on average 111 tanks per month,” a Parrish Healthcare spokesperson said. “As of (Friday) we have utilized 243 tanks for the month of August and projecting a total of 377 tanks to be utilized in August, a 240% increase compared to our typical monthly average.”

A spokesperson for AdventHealth said the Central Florida health care system has “sufficient supply” at its facilities. Halifax Health in Volusia County also reports it has enough supply.

The state Agency for Health Care Association said in a tweet area hospitals are not reporting oxygen shortages.

Airgas, an Air Liquide company, reports it has “experienced an increased demand for bulk liquid medical oxygen from hospitals throughout the pandemic,” according to a spokeswoman.

“In areas facing higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations, medical oxygen usage by our existing medical customer base is seeing a two- to three-fold increase above pre-COVID volumes and is forecasted to continue increasing,” the Airgas spokeswoman said.

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.