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Get ready: Making your apartment building resilient to COVID

I’m gearing up for a very difficult and abnormal time in the US.  I’ve been thinking about how to make our apartment building, our houses of worship, and more generally our communities more resilient to COVID-19.  We all rely on a range of companies and people around us: doorman, deliverypeople, working hospitals, etc. We can’t rely on them now to have 99.999% uptime.  

In times of stress your neighbors suddenly become a lot more important.  You may be using Nextdoor.com and other community websites a lot more than you did in the past. Our apartment building uses BuildingLink, but many residents are not signed up; I expect that many residents will start using it more aggressively. 

Here’s a sanitized version of the letter and survey we just sent to fellow residents of our apartment building, where my wife is on the board:

During this challenging time, we have been thinking about how to make our building more resilient and help lower the risk of any of us getting COVID.  We are grateful that our staff are diligently cleaning the doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces and mopping the floors at least 3 times daily.  They have put Purell at all entrances.  We have also told staff that effectively no one gets onto the building except tenants and staff: no dog walkers, trainers, delivery men (deliveries are given to the staff outside), no renovation projects unless previously scheduled. Exceptions for household help and emergencies like broken toilets/household appliances. If any of the mailboxes get overstuffed, we have instructed the doorman to handle extra mail like a package and alert the tenant.  They also are to make sure that someone checks on any resident who is not picking up their mail at least once a week.  

We understand that this will likely not be enough.  As we practice “social distancing” for an uncertain and potentially extended period of time, it may feel frightening and lonely.  While each of us may be a source of the virus, we may also be each other’s best source of support.     

We are reaching out to you to strengthen our community so that we can all support each other through these difficult times.  We would appreciate it if you could fill out the following survey in BuildingLink; you should have received an email requesting you to do so.  Alternatively, please fill out in paper form. The information we’re requesting is entirely optional, and will only be shared with other tenants and with our management company. 

  • Name
  • Apartment
  • Children’s names and ages
  • Profession (optionally title and employer)
  • Areas of expertise
  • Email
  • Home phone
  • Cell phone
  • Skype
  • Facetime
  • Whatsapp
  • Certifications (EMT/CPR/MD/etc.)
  • Medical needs including prescriptions and equipment?
  • Disabilities or access and functional needs including devices and equipment?
  • Are there any issues you anticipate confronting over the next month, particularly if you are quarantined, e.g., running out of food; getting a prescription filled that will run out in 3 weeks; getting to a future doctor’s appointment; getting your dog walked?
  • Are you currently COVID-positive or on precautionary quarantine?

We wanted to know your interest and ability to help your neighbors.  Please note we are not asking you to make any permanent commitments, but just to indicate if you’re willing to be asked to help, should your expertise be needed.  If you have any particular needs, please contact [our community moderator], who will forward your request to one of our volunteers, who (if they wish) can choose to accept your request.

  • We are designating Floor Captains, who are responsible for checking in with their neighbors at least weekly.  They can also help coordinate any assistance needed for their neighbors related to potential quarantine or self-quarantine.  Would you be interested in volunteering to be a Floor Captain?
  • Would you be interested in helping others who are on quarantine?   (Please note we are not asking you to make any permanent commitments, but just to indicate if you’re willing to be asked to help, should your expertise be needed.)
  • Yes, I can pick up groceries
  • Yes, I can pick up prescriptions
  • Yes, I can deliver mail
  • Yes, I can walk their dog
  • Yes, I can help arrange for laundry service
  • Yes, I can drive someone (who is not in quarantine)
  • Yes, I can provide IT support for people who are not tech-savvy, e.g., setting up Zoom or Venmo.
  • Are there any other ways you think you can help?
  • Would you like to organize a virtual book club or movie club, where everyone reads the same book or watches the same movie, and then holds a videoconference to discuss?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your network?

We anticipate it may be harder to get basic errands done: shopping, fixing things around the house, etc.  We urge you to get as many errands as possible done now, before it becomes difficult or impossible.  

We strongly encourage you to register to vote by mail.  COVID is going to cause unpredictable stress on our voting systems, and we want to make sure all of our neighbors can exercise their right to vote. COVID underlines the universal need for a competent, well-managed, fact-based government, both locally and nationally.  

If you are interested in volunteering to help others outside our building, we suggest register at InvisibleHandsDeliver.com .  This new service was just launched to help deliver food and other critically needed items to people in quarantine. 

 

We recruited volunteer Floor Captains throughout the building, and a few days later, each floor captain slipped this message under the doors of their neighbors (sanitized):

Dear Neighbor,

The Board of Directors has instituted a system of floor captains to assist residents during this challenging time.

Should you experience any COVID symptoms, or if you are aware of being exposed to COVID-19, we encourage you to follow medical advice and that of the CDC regarding self-quarantine and isolation; see CDC.gov. NY State has one site for all COVID-19 information: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home .

If it becomes necessary for you to remain inside your apartment for two weeks quarantine, your floor captain can arrange help with food shopping, picking up mail, picking up prescriptions, garbage disposal, pet care, laundry, and other necessary tasks.

We have four requests/suggestions, if you have not done these already:

  • Sign up at BuildingLink.com.  Make sure to review all of your settings, including the “emergency contact”. If you’re comfortable, please configure your profile to be viewable to other tenants.
  • Please fill out the COVID survey shared via email and paper.  It is available on BuildingLink.
  • Sign up for Paypal, Venmo, and/or Zelle. These are three services which allow you to pay people digitally, to minimize your exposure to paper cash.   
  • Let me know if you require assistance now with getting more digitally savvy and we will look to connect you to someone in the building who can help

If you need assistance, please contact me in any of the following ways:

Phone number:                                         Text:_______________________

Email: ____________________________________

Let’s help each other stay well!

Your floor captain,

____________________________________________

Responsible for wing: ________ 

I have been brainstorming some other initiatives which I hope to implement, which I hope you can implement in your community:

A weekly videoconference for all of the tenants, so that people can share what’s going on and any needs they have.

Reach out to our local community organizations, and ask them to hold a videoconference to give us advice, e.g.: Citizen Corps Councils, USAonWatch (Neighborhood Watch), Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Fire Corps, Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) units, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units, American Red Cross.

Encourage people to work out from home. See Lose weight and get strong without leaving your house.

Organize a group exercise class from our apartments.  No one is allowed to go outside in Spain due to the COVID crisis, so one sports instructor in Seville is teaching classes from a roof. (Video)

For general emergency preparedness, not specifically for COVID, some other ideas we should ideally also explore:

  • Add solar panels to our roof, so we have a permanent source of energy.
  • Organize a communal garden so we have some backup source of food, although realistically it will only be enough to feed a few people at best.  

For further reading:
How Multi-Family Building Owners, Coop And Condo Boards, And Managing Agents Should Deal With COVID-19

Slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus in an apartment community

How New York City residential buildings are tackling coronavirus

How to keep the people attending your event alive (updated for COVID)

Reinventing the office: How to lose fat and increase productivity at work

Community Resilience

Pandemic Supply List

Building Community Resilience

Community Resilience

Red Cross: How to prepare for emergencies

Emergency Planning: Improve Community Preparedness with these Basic Steps

Ready.gov Emergency Planning

Natural Hazard Science

Ready.gov Community Preparedness Toolkit

The 13 Commandments of Communities that Abide

Disclosure: I have no medical or real estate expertise; just trying to figure this out as we go along.  

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