What are the risk factors with condo living amid COVID-19 pandemic?
TORONTO -- Living in a condo or apartment building with shared facilities and tight spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic presents its own set of challenges.
While health officials are telling the public to stay two metres away from each other to curb the spread of the virus, how does one successfully do that in a 25-storey condo building with hundreds of tenants using the same elevators?
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network, said the key to protecting yourself is washing your hands.
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“We know the virus can be transmitted through what we call droplets and through contact,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday. “If someone coughs in an elevator, and as disgusting and rude as this sounds, directly in your face, you can get [COVID-19] that way.”
However, he said a more likely way of contracting the virus is if someone touches a common surface contaminated with droplets.
“If you touch the elevator buttons and rub your eyes or touch your mouth or nose, then you could get it that way. So hand hygiene is key,” he said.
Jessie Paul, a registered nurse in Toronto, posted a video on Facebook last week sharing tips on elevator etiquette based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“I noticed that most of the tenants in my building were doing a good job of keeping distance until we’d all get on the elevator together and I realized we needed a bit of education,” the mother of two, who is currently on maternity leave, told CTVNews.ca.
In her video, Paul tells people to push an elevator button with a napkin, the sleeve of their shirt or their elbow.
The CDC recommends disinfecting high-touch surfaces every 24 hours. “If you want to be kind, feel free to do that in your building or ask management to do so,” she said.
If the elevator is really crowded, don’t get in, said Paul. But if you’re already in the elevator and people get on, “the best thing to do is to create a barrier from any droplets that could be in the air.” She recommends using a scarf to cover your mouth.
If you have children with you, Paul said it’s best to put them in a stroller to prevent them from touching surfaces.
For Paul, it helps her to assume “everything out there is infected” when she leaves her apartment.
“So if I use the elevator, I have sanitizer on me or when I get home I immediately wash my hands and sanitize my phone,” she said.
For Toronto condo resident Dan Whidden, his concern stems from the shared garbage disposal area on his floor. He wears gloves as a precaution when he leaves his unit for necessities.
The gym, pool, party room and movie theatre in his building have all closed, a measure most condo buildings have taken.
Whidden said he feels safe in his building where they’ve ramped up cleaning of elevator buttons and other commonly touched surfaces.
“We also got an email from the property manager who said they have a task force in place for anyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or gets ill and isn’t able to get groceries or supplies for themselves,” he said in a phone interview on Friday.
The content creator and writer, who normally works from home, hasn’t felt a disruption to his weekday routine, but it’s the weekends where he feels “cooped up.” So he’s been keeping in touch with friends through online gaming and video apps.
WHAT MEASURES ARE CONDOS TAKING?
What measures are condos taking to keep residents safe?
Lyndsey McNally, the director of the Canadian Condominium Institute (CCI-N) for Toronto, told CTVNews.ca that the staff normally in charge of maintaining the pools and gyms have now been redirected to disinfect commonly touched areas throughout buildings.
“Toronto Public Health provided a fact sheet specific to multi-residential environments and that’s being reviewed by building staff to make sure the additional protocols are being done,” she said in a phone interview on Friday.
Additionally, McNally said that it’s “been agreed in the industry that unit access, unless there’s an emergency, shouldn't be done in this environment.”
“Our role has really shifted from maintenance and repair of the property to additional sanitization as well as communication to try and make sure residents have the right information to protect themselves,” she added.
John Dickie, the president of the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations (CFAA), also noted that they’ve postponed non-essential repairs and inspections in an effort to reduce entering tenants’ units and risking transmission of the virus.
Despite communication about physical distancing and hand washing, there will be some tenants who fall into the category of not taking it seriously, said Dickie, who also works as the chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization (EOLO).
Dickie said he is working on language that landlords can use with tenants “who are not playing their part.”
“There will be two sets of language, one that would be gentle language,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “And then there will be more hard hitting language.”
It’s a tricky balance because he doesn’t want to cause anxiety, but at the same time he wants tenants to be aware of the heightened risk factors of sharing a building, he said.