COVID-19

 COVID-19


CLARK BARS UPDATE - MARCH 15TH 2020

Law Offices of Scott M. Clark, PC

Coronavirus ("Covid-19")
By: Judy Drickey-Prohow

With Coronavirus ("Covid-19") news sweeping the nation, the apartment industry faces important questions on how to respond in a business model that values interpersonal relationships with its residents, applicants and others.

Through March 14, 2020 the United States now has more than three thousand reported cases, including at least sixty (60) deaths. Arizona has not been hit as hard as many states, with only twelve confirmed cases reported so far. That number reflects only confirmed cases, with experts currently estimating that there are likely at least ten (10) unreported or mild cases for every confirmed case. Because the disease spreads rapidly and often secretly it raises serious, and often unanswerable questions for this industry.

What Is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is a respiratory illness that is spread primarily by person-to-person contact. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some people infected with the virus have reported experiencing other non-respiratory symptoms while others have experienced no symptoms at all.

The Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) has evidence showing that symptoms may appear in as few as two (2) days or as long as fourteen (14) days after exposure. The virus is believed to spread (1) between people who are in close contact with one another (generally within six (6) feet); and (2) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Other possible sources of infection involve a person touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own noses or mouths; this is not believed to be the primary means of infection but may account for some cases.

People are generally thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic but there are more and more cases involving no known or reported evidence of such contact, leading researchers to believe that the disease can spread by contact that occurs before an infected person becomes symptomatic. As a result the CDC now recommends “social isolation” to the greatest extent possible for everyone, and “self-quarantine” for those who have been closely exposed to persons who have been diagnosed or show symptoms of Covid-19, even if the person who has been exposed is not symptomatic.


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Workplaces in General

Workplaces pose obvious risks of Covid-19 transmittal from co-workers, clients and members of the public. For most workplaces, protecting employees will depend on emphasizing basic infection prevention methods. The federal Occupational Health and Safety Agency (“OSHA”) recommends that workplaces emphasize good hygiene and infection control practices including
  • Promoting frequent and thorough hand washing
  • Encouraging workers to stay home if they feel sick or if they have sick family members
  • Encouraging respiratory etiquette such a covering coughs and promptly disposing of tissues after sneezing
  • Telecommuting, if the job allows for it
  • Discouraging employees from using telephones, desks, work tools, etc., that are assigned to others
  • Eliminating meetings or other gatherings that require persons to be in close physical contact with others
  • Maintaining excellent housekeeping practices by frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces including desks, telephones, keyboards, tools, door knobs and other objects used in the normal course of business.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits an employer from inquiring about whether an employee who is exhibiting symptoms has a disability or a particular impairment, it is permissible to ask someone who appears to be ill how the person is feeling or to suggest that the person go home for the day. It is good practice to communicate with all employees, including non-symptomatic ones, that if they begin to feel sick, they need to go home, and to give them information about the symptoms to watch out for any time they are at work.

Employers should also be cautious about putting out communal food such as catered lunches or even boxes of cookies or donuts. While the foods themselves will not spread the virus, the use of communal utensils may.

Because Covid-19 apparently began in China and has been characterized by many people as a “foreign virus” some workers or clients will push back when they are expected to interact with employees who appear to be or are known to be foreign born. Acceding to demands that those contacts with “foreigners” of whatever origin not occur, is a violation of both equal employment opportunity laws and fair housing laws and will subject the employer to significant potential liability.

On-Site Employees

Employees who work on-site may experience additional risks or concerns since the essence of their jobs often involves frequent interaction with residents, their guests, and members of the public including prospects. While the same general workplace protections should be implemented in these sites, Management can and should take additional steps to reduce the risk for both their employees and their tenants. In this regard some things to consider include:

  • When showing apartments, encourage the leasing team to keep a distance of six feet, if possible, from prospects and to avoid touching them
  • Declining to show apartments if a person indicates that he/she is infected or exhibits obvious symptoms of infection; invite the person to return later to see the community; and document why the apartment was not shown at that time.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces and implements that a tenant or prospect has touched during any interaction, including desks, tables, chairs, door knobs, etc.
  • Keeping hand sanitizers in the leasing office and in any amenities that are made available to residents and prospects, including model apartments
  • Encouraging residents to engage with the office electronically or telephonically instead of in-person.
  • Whenever possible avoid shaking hands, hugging or otherwise touching residents, applicants and others who come into the office
  • Consider temporarily closing or limiting the use of property amenities, including business centers, fitness centers, movie theaters or other indoor areas where people are likely to congregate.
  • Cancelling or postponing community events and gatherings and encouraging residents and staff to engage in “social isolation” to the greatest extent possible.
  • Encouraging housekeeping and maintenance and service staff to avoid any close in-person contact with residents and to disinfect any hard surfaces before touching them or wear disposable gloves and face shields when doing so.
  • Providing additional air filters in apartment units and encouraging residents to change them frequently.
  • Posting signs reminding staff, residents and prospects about precautions that they should take and where and how to report any suspected infestation.
  • Free posters are available for download at
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/stop-the-spread-of-germs.pdf
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/stop-the-spread-of-germs-sp.pdf
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/COVID19-symptoms.pdf.
  • Discouraging vendors from making personal visits to the office.

Any person who has questions about a proper protocol or who needs additional assistance is strongly encouraged to contact legal counsel at any time.





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