Some folks have always been a wee bit squeamish about guzzling from a potentially germ-infested public drinking water fountain. Since COVID-19, the very idea of doing so is horrifying to many. How about you?

Young girl drinking from water fountain
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I haven't used a public drinking fountain since the pandemic began. In fairness, many of the fountains or bubblers I have encountered were closed. Some even wrapped in plastic to keep people from accessing them.

An old drinking fountain at New Bedford's Buttonwood Park.
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While walking at Buttonwood Park recently, I came upon an old-fashioned bubbler that hasn't been active since I was a kid. Yet there it stood, and it made me wonder: did COVID kill confidence in the use of public drinking water fountains forever?

An old drinking fountain at New Bedford's Buttonwood Park.
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Would people still be willing to share a water fountain with strangers? Do the COVID police even allow such a thing anymore?

I started to dig for some answers.

Young boy drinking from water fountain
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First, I called the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). "What's the story with public drinking water fountains?" I asked. "Are they safe? Are we allowed to use them?" No one I spoke with seemed to know, so they kicked me over to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

DEM couldn't say either, so they referred me to my local health officials for clarification.

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I called New Bedford City Hall next and spoke with someone in the City of New Bedford Health Department. They told me to ask Mayor Jon Mitchell. The mayor is at home recovering from COVID. I left a message but have yet to receive a reply.

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In the early days of the pandemic, even as things began to re-open, DPH advised gyms and health clubs not to allow employees or customers to drink from water fountains and that the fountains should be used as "refill stations only." DPH stated, "Customers are not to drink directly from the water fountain."

As the hysteria began to ease just a bit, national news organizations such as Associated Press and others seemed to clear the way for the resumption of guzzling. I have been unable to find anything to contradict this reporting.

Do you think it is safe to drink water from a public fountain? Will you ever do it again?

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