Overnight, between March 16 and March 17, 2020, the number of coronavirus cases in New York State jumped from 432 to 1374. Governor Andrew Cuomo has forecast that the outbreak will not peak in New York State for another 45 days. During that time, based on modeling from the Centers for Disease Control, up to half of all New York State residents could become infected. If 2% of those infected die, it would mean 400,000 deaths in the state. With offices, schools, gyms, movie theaters, bars and restaurants closed, sporting events and social gatherings canceled and students and parents studying and working from home, the epidemic will be centered at home, including co-ops and condos.
Building management should plan for the worst. Many buildings are taking precautions, stopping deliveries to apartments and construction projects, equipping lobbies with hand sanitizer and purchasing supplies, such as bleach wipes and gloves, for staff members. Hand soap should be readily available to staff, and all staff members should wash their hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. Facemasks are generally ineffective against the virus. Those in self-quarantine should use the masks to avoid infecting others. Some additional simple steps should also be considered.
According to the available literature, bleach kills the coronavirus, so mop floors and wash walls, other flat surfaces and apartment and storage room doors, as well as all doorknobs and handles with a mild bleach solution. Wiping elevator doors, frames, cab interiors and button pads inside and out with bleach wipes will also kill the virus. Mailboxes should be wiped down regularly with bleach wipes or a bleach solution. Staff using these products should use gloves to protect their hands and goggles to protect their eyes. The virus can live for at least 12 hours on these surfaces, so these areas should be cleaned at least twice a day.
With so many people being isolated in their apartments, residents may gather in the lobby. Residents should be asked to return to their apartments rather than linger in the lobby or mailroom. Discreet signage may help.
Meetings with residents are not advisable, but email communications and posted notices will allow management to stay in contact with residents. When visiting individual units, staff should wear gloves, cough into their elbows and try to remain six feet away from residents.
Common area amenities, such as gyms, lounges or play areas, as well as storage areas, should be cleaned and closed. Buildings will not have the capacity to keep these amenities clean and virus-free during this epidemic.
Since most New York apartment buildings do not have ventilation systems that recirculate air, these systems are not as great a concern as might be expected when facing a respiratory illness. Neither steam and hot water heating systems, nor chill water air conditioning systems transmit the virus. Vent covers in bathrooms and kitchens should be cleaned with bleach, as should any diffusers in elevators or other contained spaces. Buildings must stop children from playing in the hallways during this epidemic. Children may have the virus without exhibiting symptoms and pass it on to others, including older residents, who may be at a much greater risk.
In the event that you suspect a resident or staff member has the virus, which includes symptoms such as fever, painful chest, dry cough, fatigue, tingling in hands, nausea and painful breathing, try to reach the victim’s physician or call 311 for assistance.
This column presents a general discussion. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult your attorney for specific legal advice.
Carol A. Sigmond
Porzo, Bromberg & Newman P.C.
156 West 56th Street, Suite 803
New York, NY 10019