Part 1: Multifamily Communities & COVID-19

A few months after the first cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) emerged in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, the virus has now become a worldwide pandemic. It causes a fever, cough, and shortness of breath and can range from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, and is spread in three main ways:

  • Coming into contact with the cough or sneeze respiratory droplets of a contagious person
  • Close personal contact with an infected person, such as shaking hands
  • Touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands

In Canada, we are now seeing cases rise, particularly in large metropolitan areas, like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Transmission of COVID-19 within Canadian communities is inevitable, according to infectious disease experts. Recently, Toronto’s two biggest transit agencies are bolstering cleaning on buses and trains after a GO Transit passenger tested positive for the disease.

It is important to be prepared at the individual and community level. Here are some answers to some common questions we’ve been hearing.

Should our staff or maintenance people be wearing masks?

Despite masks flying off the shelves of local stores, at this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada doesn’t recommend them for healthy individuals. The agency notes that wearing a mask when you are not ill and are not at high risk for developing symptoms may give a false sense of security. As well, masks can easily become contaminated and need to be changed frequently and fitted properly for them to provide adequate protection.

How else can we keep our business running smoothly?

If staff members who still work on-site feel sick, advise them to stay home and monitor their symptoms. Ensure that the office space has plenty of tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitizers and soap to encourage healthy, preventative habits. Consider offering more flexible work-from-home options and ensure that you have tools and web-based software that allows employees to collaborate, even if they are working from home.

As with any business continuity plan, identify any talent gaps if there is the chance of increased absenteeism, for instance, critical job functions and positions. Plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff. Review any critical elements in your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations.

Can our building staff take any preventative actions?

Solid prevention measures include the wearing of gloves, ramping up cleaning of common areas, including lobbies, elevators, offices, and the laundry room. In general, coronaviruses have poor survivability on surfaces, and are generally thought to be spread by respiratory droplets left behind after someone coughs or sneezes. Regardless, disinfecting high-contact surfaces, such as light switches, door handles and elevator panels, is a best practice approach in a multifamily environment. Toronto Public Health has put out a comprehensive guide to infection prevention and control for commercial and residential buildings.

The American Chemistry Council’s Center for Biocide Chemistries has compiled a list of cleaning products that have been pre-approved by the U.S. EPA for use against “emerging enveloped pathogens.” 

What about ventilation systems?

At this time, no Canadian agency has addressed this yet, and the risk is low. However, the US-based ASHRAE has recently released resources for building owners, operators and engineers to address airborne particles that may be circulated by HVAC systems.

Where can I get the latest COVID-19 resources?

Here are some excellent resources:

Public Health Agency of Canada: Coronavirus Fact Sheet

Infection Prevention and Control Canada: Latest Updates

World Health Organization: Coronavirus Page