COVID-19 Community Living

As COVID-19 evolves, individuals and those responsible for others, need to stay informed and make decisions based on reliable sources; like the Australian Department of Health. What’s more, committees play a vital role in the health and safety of community living, property owners, and visitors. The importance of their role means it is critical they have access to accurate information on how to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and protect communities. 

Promote health and safety as the #1 priority

  • Place notices reminding owners, residents, guests and contractors to practice good hygiene, social distancing, and self-isolation rules in the entrance or lobby areas. Ensure notices are kept simple and consider using images to demonstrate key messages
  • Outline the precautionary measures being put in place by the committee through a range of communication channels. For example, use notifications to explain hand hygiene practices and extra cleaning services via mailboxes, under doors, and email
  • Instruct cleaners to regularly disinfect common areas such as door handles, light switches, lift buttons, entrance and lobby areas, restrooms and any other common areas. The New England Journal of Medicine discovered the virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel
  • Based on direction from the Federal Government, we advise the closure of non-essential common area facilities such as gyms and pools. Read the Prime Minister’s update on the closure of non-essential services, 22 March
  • Provide on-site building management staff or contractors access to soap and water or hand sanitiser, and updated protocols on cleaning and disinfecting
  • Arrange for parcel deliveries to be left at the front door or lobby area. Consider using gloves to accept packages

 

Reduce the amount of personal and direct interaction – general guidance for meetings

  • Encourage committee members and residents to communicate via phone or email instead. At PICA Group, we recommend making alternate arrangements such as virtual meetings via video conference, phone or other means
  • If you have an AGM coming up, consider conducting this via electronic means. Please contact your strata manager for more information on options available to you
  • If residents have recently travelled overseas or are aware of being in contact with someone who has travelled overseas in the last 14-days, they should be notified not to attend meetings. Provide them with alternatives to stay involved such as appointing a proxy, joining the meeting via telephone, or sending an email to your strata manager containing the issues they want raised
  • If face-to-face interactions need to take place, with contractors, for example, implement precautionary measures. These should include keeping to the recommended safe distance of one person per four square metres, providing a health notice in the meeting pack, and displaying the notice at the meeting venue, provide hand sanitiser

 

Close non-essential common areas

  • Avoid keeping common area facilities open for use, such as the swimming pool, BBQ areas or laundry room as these areas could assist with transmission
  • If you have facilities, encourage owners and residents to take precautionary methods such as
    • Adhere to notices about practising safe and hygienic workouts
    • When using the laundry room, wash your hands before and after using the facility. Ensure you use detergent and a hot water wash, and using the dryer is recommended. Remember, to maintain social distancing
  • All communications about hygiene practices while using the facilities should be clearly visible and communicated verbally to all owners and residents wherever possible
  • Laundry rooms, mailrooms, parking garages and bike holding areas that need to remain open should be subject to stricter and more regular cleaning control methods

 

What should the committee consider if a resident is tested positive for COVID-19?

If you become aware of a resident who has tested positive for COVID-19, please be mindful of the following privacy obligations

  • Consider and decide whether you, as the committee, wish to inform other owners and residents Contractors, however, should be notified for their own safety and precaution
  • If any information is shared with other owners and residents, ensure that the confidentiality and privacy of the resident concerned is respected
  • The committee has no obligation to announce any confirmed cases. If you wish to do so, it is important to determine a confirmed case, and not where someone has gone into self-isolation
  • Nothing should be published identifying the person with the virus, including which floor level they reside on
  • It’s also worthwhile to note the Privacy Act. It requires that you do not disclose personal information received unless such disclosure is within the primary purpose of having collected that information. You should make sure you obtain any consent to share information in writing, and it should specifically state the personal information they consent to being disclosed
  • More information and resources are available via the Australian Government Department of Health

 

Be vigilant when it comes to contractors visiting your property

  • To keep both the residents and visiting contractors safe and healthy, revisit your contractor or visitor procedures. For example, stipulate the requirements to maintain social distancing measures
  • Request Safe Work Method Statements, which now include additional processes including Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and social distancing measures
  • Contractors should
    • Practise social distancing in common areas and display signs or section off areas where they expect to frequent — operate as if someone has been infected
    • Sanitise equipment before it is brought on-site
    • Regularly sanitise hands and ask them to disinfect door handles, and other surfaces after they have completed work
    • Bring their own pens if any signatures are required
    • Contact the strata or building manager for updates or further guidance, if required
  • Remember the main obligation of an owners corporation or body corporate is to maintain common property. Committees should bear in mind their responsibilities when deciding whether to continue with works. Common areas must always be maintained to a standard that is safe for residents and guests. Use common sense when considering what works to continue with and what should be postponed

 

Enforce stricter cleaning controls for common areas

  • Review cleaning products used, increase the number of cleans, length of clean, and what gets cleaned. Refer to the Australian Government Department of Health Cleaning Guide for guidance
  • While general cleaning is important for maintaining the basic hygiene and the physical cleanliness of a property, the COVID-19 outbreak requires cleaning techniques beyond a standard clean to kill airborne pathogens and the virus
  • To help prevent transmission, ask cleaning contractors to present their COVID-19 policies or cleaning plans on how they are handling the situation. They need to show they are taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of infection. New cleaning processes should cover all common areas that owners, residents and visitors utilise
  • Talk to your strata manager to access PICA Group’s list of cleaning contractors

 

Helping you to maintain financial stability

Committees may wish to consider the following measures to remain financially sustainable and relieve financial strain on owners

  • Build a cashflow forecast to re-assess expenditure and defer non-essential and discretionary spending
  • Reconsider levies following any reduced discretionary expenditure
  • Defer non-essential capital or major works
  • Use your capital works/sinking funds for administrative fund expenses, if permissible under the relevant state-based legislation
  • Apply for a strata loan

Please contact your strata manager who can provide reports and historical data to assist with these measures, provide guidance on the meeting/resolution requirements, as well as information on strata loans.

Buildings are our homes, and we need to protect them. A greater focus on health and safety is necessary at this time and taking all precautions necessary will help to flatten the curve of COVID-19.