ASSOCIATION RESPONSIBILITIES DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS
In the wake of the unprecedented COVID-19 emergency, community and condominium association boards have suddenly and unexpectedly been tasked with crisis management. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an emergency disaster declaration on March 6, 2020, and has since mandated closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses; Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has similarly ordered closure of all non-essential business and government operations. At the same time, Pennsylvania’s court systems are essentially closed to all but criminal or emergency matters.
Within these limitations, however, associations must continue to operate and function. As with all board decisions, crisis management is subject to the appropriate standard of care: At all times, board members must act in good faith, “in a manner they reasonably believe to be in the best interests of the association and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, skill and diligence, as a person of ordinary prudence would use under similar circumstances.” In performing their duties, members of the board are entitled to rely in good faith on opinions, reports, or statements from experts and professionals within a particular field. Accordingly, to the extent certain actions are within their powers and obligations, where appropriate, boards should consider the following guidelines and recommendations:
Resident and Staff Safety:
• Publish, post and follow all CDC recommendations on hand washing and social distancing.
• Ensure that staff and employees are familiar with, and follow, CDC recommendations (no handshaking, regular hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, not touching face, covering mouth when coughing and sneezing, etc).
• Supply hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectant, gloves and face masks for staff and employees.
• Promote communications via telephone and/or e-mail.
• Limit in-person meetings to emergency matters.
• Require symptomatic staff members and employees to stay home and quarantine.
• Encourage symptomatic individuals to seek medical care, engage in self-quarantine, and report symptoms to the association and to appropriate agencies (i.e., CDC, local and state Department of Health, etc.).
• Encourage anyone who was in close contact with symptomatic person to self-quarantine and to report any symptoms.
• Encourage anyone with a suspected/confirmed case of COVID-19 to report to the association so that staff and residents can be notified and advised to take all precautions necessary to limit the risk of exposure.
• Occupational Safety and Hazard guidelines (“OSHA”) may apply.
• Increase ventilation where possible by opening windows and/or adjusting the HVAC system.
• Regularly disinfect surfaces such as doorknobs, railings, tables, desks, furniture and equipment with an EPA approved disinfectant.
• Restrict access and limit entry to association buildings to necessary staff, residents, caretakers/medical providers, emergency personnel, law enforcement and contractors performing essential and absolutely necessary repairs.
• Establish and monitor deliveries and access to packages.
• Supply hand sanitizer and/or hand sanitizing wipes at entrances to the building for use prior to entry, outside of elevators and in areas where residents may congregate.
• Close and prevent access to common areas where appropriate, including clubhouses, meeting rooms, gyms, pools, etc.
• Maintain soap and paper towels in public bathrooms, monitor proper operation of facilities.
• Establish and publish limitations as to the maximum number of people permitted on the elevator and the maintenance of social distancing (i.e., 6 feet) to the extent possible.
• Post approved CDC Guidelines throughout the community.
Meetings and Gatherings:
• It is highly recommended that by virtue of Governor Wolf’s recent declaration requiring all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close, any non-emergency association meetings be postponed or, if possible, be held virtually or electronically.
• Strictly limit attendance at meetings and ensure attendees maintain a minimum of 6 feet social distancing, arrange for electronic meeting attendance (i.e., conference or video call).
• If necessary, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces.
COVID-19 Suspected/Confirmed within the Association:
• Common areas that were possibly accessed by the individual should be closed and thoroughly sanitized in accordance with CDC Guidelines and proper precautions should be taken in doing so (i.e., protective gowns, masks, gloves, etc).
• To the extent possible, confidentiality of the (suspected) infected individual should be maintained. However, building staff should be advised if they have or may come into contact with this individual. Additionally, occupants and residents should be notified so that proper sanitization precautions can be taken within individual units, and individuals can self-quarantine in the event of contact with the (suspected) infected individual.
• CDC and local and state health officials should be notified, and, in the event proper quarantine is not being observed, notification should be made to federal, state and local officials as appropriate.
• In the event of any deliveries to the unit of an infected or quarantined individual, deliveries should be left outside the door and staff should depart the area without any interaction.
• Be mindful of the emotional and psychological impact on residents and staff.
• Encourage cooperation and courtesy – lead by example.
• Be prepared to quickly adjust policies as the pandemic develops.
• Seek advice of professionals (management, vendors, legal counsel etc…).
• Communicate openly and frequently with staff and residents.
• Communicate with governmental officials and agencies.
Resources for Additional Information*:
*The list does not constitute medical or clinical advice, and represents a compilation of available references and publications. Please be advised that depending upon geographic location, additional precautions and restrictions may be mandated or recommended by governmental authorities
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.