01/28/2015 09:32 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Winnipeg's 1st citywide boil-water advisory not a 'no-water event'

Winnipeg's first-ever boil-water advisory doesn't mean it should turn into a "no-water event," a city official said a day after the advisory took effect due to an E. coli scare.

While water must be boiled before drinking it or using it for food preparation, tap water is still safe for hand washing, Geoff Patton, of the water and waste department, told media Wednesday morning.

Abnormal test results, including the ones that confirmed the E. coli that prompted the advisory on Tuesday night, are rare for Winnipeg.

The boil-water advisory instituted Tuesday marked the first for the entire city, Patton said.

"They just don't add up," Patton said of the test results. "We need to get to the bottom of this." 

He noted that it takes time to grow bacterial samples for testing, and if Wednesday's tests come back negative, there will be a consultation before the boil-water advisory is lifted.

Boil-water advisory affects in healthcare

According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), the boil-water advisory will not affect surgeries because they don't require the use of tap water. 

Young patients or those with weakened immune systems in facilities are being given bottled water, because they could be at risk of "bad water," said Helen Clark of the WRHA.

The WRHA has been in contact with a bottled water supplier to ensure sufficient supplies for patients, Clark said.

There have been no reports to the city of anyone getting sick from consuming city water, and the WRHA has not seen any water-related clusters of illness.

But the city is emphasizing that Winnipeggers should keep boiling their water and not panic.

Schools turn off taps

Schools throughout Winnipeg turned off their taps after the boil-water advisory came into effect.

Parents were asked to send their children to school with bottled water, or water that has been properly boiled and cooled at home.

At the University of Winnipeg, plastic wrap covered a water fountain in the soccer complex.

Oliver Thomas was caught off guard when he showed up with an empty bottle before his game.

"There's no water in the bottle — totally nothing.  And I usually bring water from home, but they usually tell us not to, so I usually use the water fountain," he said.

Water fountains and bottle-filling stations have also been turned off at Red River College, where food services are limited as a result of the advisory.

Staff have provided residents with bottled water at the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, where culinary, hospitality and baking programs are held. A limited breakfast will be offered to those residents on Wednesday morning, and classes won't be affected, according to a college spokesperson.

World of Water, companies work to keep supply available

Bottled water has been scarce in Winnipeg after a run on stores on Tuesday night.

Winnipeg's head office for World of Water on Keewatin Street usually closes at 4:30 p.m. but on Tuesday the office stayed open until midnight filling bottles for their outlets around the city. On Wednesday, employees were on the job at 6 a.m., two hours earlier than their regular start time.