Correct me if I am wrong, but most of the typical rule violations found in your community do not seem as critical now that our lives have been affected by a real pandemic. Few people are having conflicts with neighbors about noise, parking, animals, hallway odors and other common disputes. What has become the real-time topic of conversation is what our senior communities can be doing to help slow the spread of the virus and prevent an outbreak.
The Center for Disease Control updates its website most days and the number of people being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 is the primary breaking news in the media daily. The President reports on television daily. We know to wash our hands regularly and to keep a safe distance from each other. We also know that seniors are the most vulnerable group when infected by Covid-19, but what steps can our senior communities actually take to help?
- First, recognize that the cooperative’s governing documents and statutes governing a cooperative are subject to and superseded by a governmental order, i.e. an order from the city, county, state or federal government. In most states, the governors have issued Executive Orders, including stay at home requirements. Despite a provision in your bylaws allowing residents to use exercise rooms, great rooms, and even outdoor areas, the board of directors is responsible to follow the governmental orders. All decisions, which the cooperative needs to make to comply with this pandemic emergency, are made by the board of directors. Where interpretation is required to apply the governmental orders to the cooperative, that interpretation is made by the board of directors. Many residents may not agree with the directives of the government or the board of directors; however, the decisions made by the board of directors carry the same weight and required compliance as the provisions of the declaration and bylaws.
- Cancel non-essential group events. This includes your annual meeting, unless it can be done remotely. While the concept of social distancing is contrary to the concept of cooperative living, a board must take steps to ensure its residents do not pass on the virus to others. The health and safety of the community supersedes the individuals’ rights to carry on their personal agendas, meetings and use of community rooms. Alter schedules, limit participation and take other steps to limit the residents’ contact with each other. Consider postponing annual meetings; alternatively, hold the election of directors by mail voting and distribute other information appropriately. If appropriate, consider electing directors by acclamation; in the event of a lack of opposition, the candidate is considered elected.
- Most Bylaws provide that the board can take written action without a meeting. Typically, a written action without a meeting requires a unanimous decision. Keep your members engaged by use of teleconferencing, video chats such as Zoom or other technology. Distribute information from committee meetings and board meetings. Members that have questions can submit them prior to the scheduled meeting and be considered by the Board President or addressed at a later time.
- Seniors like to exercise. Do we close the pool and exercise room? Each board has the authority to make its own decision; however, you would be wise to err on the side of caution. A pool and exercise room are common areas of a cooperative and out of an abundance of caution, it is simply safer to close those common areas than to concern yourselves with constant sanitation and keeping people apart from one another. In addition, the fewer common areas that are open for residents’ use, the fewer areas will need to be regularly sanitized. Some individuals may not like this decision, but it is clearly in the best interests of the overall community.
- Treat everyone as though they have Covid-19. One of the reasons that this virus is so problematic is that not all people infected with the virus show symptoms or even feel ill. Despite best intentions, it may be transmitted to others without anyone even knowing. To do the best job protecting our communities, we should act as though everyone has the virus. Take the same precautions that you would if you knew someone had tested positive for the virus.
- Notify residents of when and how the building will disinfect its common areas. It is important for everyone to understand the cleaning that will take place as well as the cleaning that will not take place. For example, if the elevator is only cleaned one time per week, residents will need to know this so they will not assume it is cleaned daily or even more often. By distributing the cleaning schedules, no resident will have different expectations for the cleaning of the building and common areas.
- Limit the number of visitors/guests. While this may be difficult, every person that enters the building brings additional risk to the entire community. Put together a policy that specifically lists the types of visitors that will be allowed in the building. For example, if you have residents that have healthcare workers visit them, you will likely allow them to enter the building. How about family? This is an extremely difficult decision; however, whatever decision is made, it should be made in a policy statement by the board and distributed to all residents.
- The virus information and the CDC guidelines are rapidly evolving. Consider appointing a Covid Committee to monitor all virus and CDC related information. The committee could have information available and also make recommendations to the board for further restrictions and eventual lifting of restrictions. Such a committee could do telephone or distance checking on residents to identify anyone with symptoms of the virus and then enlist professionals to ensure they obtain proper treatment. Alternatively, consider a buddy system so someone will quickly be alerted to another resident’s illness, whether it is Covid or another disease.
- Consider supplying protective face masks and other safety gear for your residents. Currently, this type of gear is in short supply. Initiate a club that can make protective items, such as face masks for the building’s residents. We all know from the news that it only takes one infected person in a community building to set off an unprecedented dangerous outbreak.
- Don’t forget about stress and anxiety. Fear of this disease can result in strong emotions. Even watching the evening news about the virus can cause you to worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones. The Covid Committee could also prepare and distribute a list of resources for residents to use during periods of high stress and anxiety. Consider a Zoom meeting to keep people in touch with the Covid Committee and their friends and loved ones.