COVID-19 Outbreak: Building Management Best Practices
The risk of COVID transmission in residential buildings is low—as long as you follow proper protocols.
As the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 has risen, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) has stated that there’s now widespread community transmission of the virus in New York City, meaning the sources of new infections are unknown. With residents staying in their apartments, it’s becoming more important for owners to keep informed of the latest residential building-related guidance from the DOH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The guidance from these organizations may be updated as new information becomes available.
According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. These particles don’t remain suspended in the air, so close contact with an infected individual is required for transmission. Therefore, the mere presence of sick residents within your building should not pose a threat to other residents or staff.
DOH officials view common areas such as lobbies and hallways as low-risk areas because there’s rarely prolonged contact between residents at these locations. In a press conference in early March, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the DOH Commissioner, described the risk of contracting COVID-19 in building common areas as “casual.” She stated, “This is not an illness that can be easily spread through casual contact.” She added that evidence suggests that the virus is not transmitted through ventilation systems.
Based on the best information available as of March 17, the DOH issued a “FAQ for Residential Buildings Coronavirus Disease.” The document covers specific safety measures and building operations as they pertain to limiting the potential COVID-19 transmissions. We’ll review the top five building management best practices.
TOP FIVE BUILDING MANAGEMENT BEST PRACTICES
1. Keep Buildings Clean
In line with the CDC’s guidelines, the DOH recommends owners and managers ensure that common areas are frequently cleaned and disinfected. You and your staff should:
- Wear and use appropriate personal protective equipment. For cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, staff can wear disposable gloves. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning. If reusable gloves are used, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and should not be used for other purposes. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfection products used. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.
- Wipe down frequently touched surfaces (such as drinking fountains, faucet handles, door hardware, elevator buttons, and light switches) daily with a disinfectant.
- Use regular disinfection products (such as Clorox, Purell, and peroxide products). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (such as concentration, application method and contact time, use of personal protective equipment). According to the CDC, for disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
- For questions about the effectiveness of a product, check the New York State list of disinfectants, which is based on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list, at http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/covid19.pdf.
2. Regulate Building Deliveries
While good personal hygiene practices remain the best method for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, allowing more physical space between people can also curb the spread of COVID-19. As such, the DOH encourages building staff and residents to maintain social distancing when getting packages, mail, and entering or exiting the building. For large residential buildings where packages are left in the lobby, the DOH says building staff may consider assisting residents by dropping deliveries outside their apartment to prevent residents from potentially congregating when picking up packages from the lobby.
The DOH also notes that some delivery services such as Uber Eats, FreshDirect, and Amazon have an online section for “special instructions.” In this section, residents can request that packages be delivered to the door or to text/call and leave the packages at the door to potentially minimize person-to-person contact and touching of surfaces.
3. Allow and Prepare for Staff Absences
According to the DOH, in the event of a staff shortage, owners and managers may consider identifying backup staff or asking resident volunteers to help with package delivery, routine cleaning and disinfecting, and other tasks in the building as appropriate, while encouraging social distancing.
The CDC recommends owners actively encourage sick staff to stay home. Also, owners should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Owners should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
The DOH has downloadable information you can post in various locations in your building. The “Stop the Spread of Coronavirus Flyer” is available at https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/stop-the-spread-poster.pdf, and a “Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Factsheet” can be found at https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/stop-the-spread-poster.pdf.
You can find other resources that cover facts about COVID-19, what to do if you’re sick, and best practices for stopping the spread of germs at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html. You can place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene where they are likely to be seen.
Staff members who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
4. Maintain Normal Climate Control, Water Temperature
There’s an abundance of misinformation about coronavirus on social media and even in some news reports. That’s why it’s important to get your information from trusted federal, state, and local health departments.
According to the DOH, there is no data to suggest that adjusting the temperature or humidity of a building would be an effective way to reduce transmission of COVID-19. The DOH does not recommend that buildings increase humidity levels to control COVID-19 transmission.
Similarly, there’s no optimal temperature for water to be to sanitize hands against the coronavirus. Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps to take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. While soap and running water are both needed, hands can be sanitized using either warm or cold water.
5. Check on Vulnerable Tenants
If your staff has the capacity, the DOH says owners and managers could help residents stay healthy and reduce isolation by checking in with residents by phone or text (not in person) who express interest in this type of contact.
If a lone vulnerable tenant is self-isolating, offering help in the way of delivering supplies while maintaining social distancing standards could make a big difference for that tenant. According to the CDC, the latest information shows that most people who contract COVID-19 will present only mild symptoms. However, early data also suggests that “older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.” Individuals over the age of 70, or who have chronic conditions or rely on medications that suppress the immune system, are considered at the greatest risk.
Editor's Note: As the city responds to COVID-19, city agencies are updating their operating procedures. See "City-Wide Agencies' Policy Changes Due to COVID-19," below.
Online Coronavirus Resources
> NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH)
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Webpage: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/coronavirus.page
- Commercial or Residential Building General Disinfection Guidance: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/disinfection-guidance-for-commercial-residential-covid19.pdf
- Residential Buildings Frequently Asked Questions: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-residential-buildings-faq.pdf
> Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Webpage: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf
- 2019-nCoV: What the public should do: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/what-you-should-do.pdf
- Stop the Spread of Germs: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/stop-the-spread-of-germs.pdf
> World Health Organization (WHO)
- WHO information and guidance on COVID-19: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
- WHO FAQs on Coronaviruses: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
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|City-Wide Agencies' Policy Changes Due to COVID-19|