By William D. McCracken
The year 2020 has been a gauntlet, so it’s only fitting that for co-op and condo boards, the approaching holiday season presents itself not as a time of peace and celebration but instead as yet another series of trials to overcome.
With the coronavirus spreading uncontrolled throughout the country and with hospitals nationwide becoming overwhelmed, our current situation is already dire. It’s not hard to imagine that bringing extended families together over the holidays could fuel a truly terrifying increase in infection rates and deaths in the coming weeks.
Given the current state of affairs in New York City and much of the rest of the nation, co-op and condo boards should take aggressive actions to try to stem the spread of the virus in their communities. For example, boards should consider formally discouraging private social gatherings that involve bringing outside family, friends or other guests into the building. The pernicious fact is that the novel coronavirus has a long incubation period, and people can be contagious without showing symptoms or even having any idea that they are infected. Even people who recently tested negative can be unwittingly carrying – and spreading – the disease.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently ordered that private social gatherings be limited to 10 people. To protect the health of building residents, staff and guests, co-op and condo boards should make sure that the order is strictly enforced. Boards should require that a list of guests, with contact information, be provided to the front desk in advance of any social event.
Guests who arrive without masks or who are not on the pre-submitted guest list should not be permitted to enter the building. Doormen should be empowered to turn away guests who arrive with visible symptoms of illness. Management should also put protocols in place to ensure that there is no overcrowding in the lobby or elevators during high-volume periods before and after holiday gatherings.
While these measures may reduce the chance that their buildings play host to super-spreader events, there is little that co-op and condo boards can do to prevent their residents and staff from attending large holiday gatherings elsewhere. How can boards reduce the chances that the virus will spread in their buildings in the days and weeks after holiday events? The key is to maintain the rigorous protocols that co-op and condo boards instituted during the initial surge of the virus last spring: universal mask-wearing rules, social distancing in common areas, and regular cleanings. If they have not already done so, boards should also invest in measures to make sure that their common areas (such as lobbies, hallways, and laundry rooms) are properly ventilated and that the air is being filtered.
Even under the best of circumstances, the holidays can be stressful for many people, and the current circumstances will only exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness. Board members should consider steps to buttress their neighbors’ mental health this holiday season. Buildings could host virtual holiday parties, or online donation drives, or (safe and socially distanced) outdoor tree-lighting ceremonies. These sorts of small gestures could live long in the collective memory of an otherwise difficult year.
In the end, the most important thing that boards can do for this most unusual holiday season is help ensure that their residents and staff will be here to enjoy a “normal” holiday season next year.