What should an association do if it is learned that a resident has texted positive for COVID-19 and/ or what proactive steps can it take to guard against the situation?
This is, of course, an important consideration for many associations in Southwest Florida as they potentially receive news of positive COVID-19 cases within their communities. As we enter another week of social distancing during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, we know that many association boards, managers and residents are concerned about their own health and the health of their community member families and neighbors.
We suggest that an association board request voluntary reporting of this information from their residents. Hopefully most, if not all, residents will agree to cooperate. If the association management has this information it can be used to prevent or slow the transmission of the virus within the community. However, the association must keep this information private or confidential, unless the resident in question agrees to the disclosure. So, in other words, while positive COVID-19 cases can be shared with other residents, this should only be done where the resident (who has tested positive) agrees. It is not clear to what extent an association can compel residents to come forward with this information. It is best to appeal to the members and residents for their cooperation and participation for the benefit of the greater community. Any consideration of compulsion should only be taken after obtaining proper legal advice and guidance based on the specific circumstances.
In our view, an association is in a good position to provide guidance, information, education and some friendly and well-intended encouragement persuasion. Association boards should create formal protocols and procedures to help educate, inform and ideally prevent the spread of the virus, whether or not there is a confirmed illness in a community. Such protocols should include the following:
• Closing various amenities, including gyms, community rooms, swimming pools, and similar areas.
• Requiring residents and guests to “stand back” a respectful distance from staff and concierges.
• Limiting in-person access to site staff and other associated personnel.
• Limiting repair work to “essential only,” in order to minimize contractor traffic, as well as entry by other service providers.
• Enhanced cleaning of surfaces (from elevator buttons to handrails), multiple times per day.
• Placement of hand sanitizer and wipes throughout the buildings and other association facilities, to the extent supplies, are available.
• Encouraging residents to limit guests as much as possible, particularly those with symptoms.
• Asking that residents disclose if they are in quarantine or test positive so that the association can consider whether additional mitigation measures need to be implemented to ensure a successful quarantine.
Any particular implementation strategy should be taken only with specific legal guidance and advice.
Cheryl Hastings is a shareholder of Grant Fridkin Pearson, P.A. and has practiced law in Southwest Florida since 2002. She focuses her practice in the areas of residential and commercial real estate development and finance, including mixed use and water-front projects. Cheryl also has extensive experience in representing landlords and tenants in commercial leasing, representing contractors and owners in the preparation and negotiation of construction contracts, representing developers and associations in the preparation of homeowners’ association documents and the creation of residential and commercial condominiums.