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Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19): HOA, Condominium & Homeowners Association Response and Preparation

March 18, 2020

This article provides current information (as of 3/18/2020) regarding the Coronavirus Pandemic and offers suggestions to Utah HOAs (Condominiums, Associations, HOAs, and Homeowners Associations) on how to respond to this outbreak. Much of the information in this article is available and sourced from the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html. Other information is available at https://healthcare.utah.edu/coronavirus/https://health.utah.gov/coronavirushttps://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/opinions/colleen-kraft-coronavirus-best-defense/index.htmlhttps://www.ready.gov/pandemic.

A very informative map and dashboard tracking system for the pandemic is available from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Science and Engineering. You can access it by clicking HERE.  

Utah HOAs should start planning and preparing for a more widespread outbreak (community transmission) in Utah because the CDC and almost all public officials are stating that it is not a matter of “if” it will occur, but more a matter of “when.” Moreover, there is now confirmed community transmission in various counties in Utah, including Davis, Summit, and Salt Lake counties.

Background on the new Coronavirus Pandemic

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is monitoring an emerging and rapidly evolving outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) virus that was initially detected in China. . This new Coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a "public heatlh emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020 and declared the outbreak an official pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Coronavirus around the World

The virus has now infected more than 215,000 people in almost every country including the United States. More than 8,700 people have died from the virus. The virus has spread dramatically in several countries including China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran. In China and Itally hospitals have been overwhelmed. Many countries are closing schools, cancelling all public gatherings, and imposing restrictions on the movement of people. Almost every country affected is recommending that people shelter at home. 

Coronavirus in the United States

As of the last update of this article, there were over 7,700 confirmed cases of the new Coronavirus in the United States in every state and Washington D.C., with more than 118 deaths resulting from the infections. President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020. Many state governors and local authorities have also declared state and local emergencies. Schools are closing in many states and most sporting events and gatherings have been cancelled. The following is the latest reporting from the Johns Hopkins University tracking Website as of the last update of this article. Based on a press conference held by the President of the United States on March 18, 2020, it is expected that the number of confirmed cases in the United States will dramatically increase over the next week because testing kits are more widely available. 

The Coronavirus in Utah

There are now in excess of 51 reported and confirmed cases in Utah, although there are certainly more undetected and unconfirmed infections. Summit County has reported the first confirmed case of community spread with the positive test of a doorman at the Spur Bar and Grill in Park city. The man had no known contact with anyone infected and it is unclear how many people this man interacted with while infected and showing symptoms. The governor of Utah declared a state of emergency on Friday March 6, 2020 to facilitate emergency preparation. Hospitals in Utah are preparing for an increase in patients. All public schools (including university campuses) were closed for two weeks effective March 13, 2020 and all commencement ceremonies this spring will be postponed or cancelled. Almost all sporting events and gatherings of people have been cancelled. Almost every religious organization has cancelled all services and gatherings. The Utah Department of Health ordered all restuarants and bars to close their dining roomes, effective 11:59 p.m. March 17, 2020. Take-out, delivery, and grocery shopping is still permitted. Many health care providers are aksing people to reschedule non-essential vistis and call before visiting a walk-in clinic to allow medical staff to focus on the Covid-19 crisis. State officials are not encouraging everyone to take serious precautions, including staying at least six feet away from other people and staying home if showing any symptoms. 

Clinical Analysis

The complete clinical picture with regard to the new Coronavirus is not fully understood. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most new Coronavirus illness is mild, a report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases. Older people and people with certain underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example, seem to be at greater risk of serious illness. The potential public health threat posed by the new Coronavirus is very high in the United States, according to the CDC.

Symptoms

Symptoms of infection include fever (88% of people reporting), dry cough (68%), fatigue (38%), Sputum production (33%), shortness of breath (18%), muscle or joint pain (15%), sore throat (14%), headache (14%), chills (11%), nausea or vomiting (5%), nasal congestion (5%), Diarrhea (4%), Haemoptsis (1%), & Conjunctive congestion (1%). In more serious infections, symptoms include high fevers, coughing up blood, decreased while blood cells, and kidney failure. Some people who are infected will show no symptoms. 

Potential for Future Spreading of the Infection

According to the CDC, significantly more infections are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. At this time, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus because the virus is not currently spreading widely in the United States. However, The CDC notes that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in communities in the United States. It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of the new Coronavirus in the United States will occur.

General Effect of Widespread Spreading

According to the CDC, widespread transmission of the new Coronavirus would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.

Treatment

At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against the New Coronavirus and no medications approved to treat it. There are multiple government/private parties working on a vaccine. The best estimate is that it will take at least one year to produce a vaccine. In the meantime, treatment for an infection is limited to supportive care to help relieve symptoms. In life threatening situations, hospitalization and care to support vital organ functions is necessary.

Individual Response

The CDC, other government agencies, and various experts recommend the following actions:

  1. Limit all travel, but certainly limit travel to certain locations in the World, including China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
  2. Shelter in place. 
  3. Get a flu vaccine,
  4. Frequently and properly wash hands,
  5. Avoid in-person contact with people who are sick,
  6. Stay at least six feet away from other people,
  7. Stay at home if you are sick, along with taking other actions to prevent the spread of your illness,
  8. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose,
  9. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, school, and other locations,
  10. Get plenty of sleep, manage stress, drink fluids, eat nutritious foods, and be physically active.
  11. Prepare your household for a “pandemic Flu” https://www.cdc.gov/nonpharmaceutical-interventions/pdf/gr-pan-flu-ind-house.pdf
  12. Prepare for the closure of your child’s school or daycare.
  13. Have a minimum two-week supply of water, food, and over-the-counter medications you tend to take. A six-month supply of food and over-the-counter medication  in case of shortages and home sheltering is recommended by Morris Sperry. Rice, pasta, canned foods, and other non-perishables are recommended for long term home sheltering.
  14. Stock up on over-the-counter medications for the relief of flu-like symptoms in case you are infected and must treat at home.
  15. Obtain a several-month supply (at least 6 months) of normal medications, especially if you are over 60 years old or in another high risk category. 
  16. Consider updating computers, home WiFi networks, and internet access speeds in preparation for working from home and for more intensive use of computers and the internet in case of home sheltering recommendations or requirements.

HOA Response

HOA boards of directors and management committees can play a role in assisting owners in an HOA related to this outbreak. Each Board will have to decide how involved they want to be. Morris Sperry offers the following suggestions for Utah condominium associations, Utah homeowners associations, and Utah HOAs, depending on the level of involvement the HOA management committee wants to take.

Minimum Recommended Actions

  1. Confirm and/or start regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces in common areas that could be a source of transmitting of the virus. This could include common area door handles, railings, doors, restrooms, mailbox surfaces, and counters.
  2. Cancel all in-person meetings of owners and board members and instead conduct meetings telephonically or electronically. All Utah HOA meetings in Utah can be conducted legally using telephonic and other electronic communications and Utah HOA boards can legally make decisions and take actions using email. There are multiple online services available to accomplish calls and meetings with any number of people, including Gotomeeting, WebEx, ezTalks Meetings, Teamview, join.me, Google Hangouts, and Megameeting. Some are free and some require a fee. They have varying levels of services and availability.
  3. Obtain extra supplies of common area cleaning materials and normal maintenance supplies to avoid the effects of shortages in stores and the need for employees or volunteers to have in-person contact in stores and supply houses.

Additional Possible Actions.

  1. In HOA newsletters or mailings, provide links to owners for government sources of information at the national, state, and local level, which could include those links identified in this article. The HOA should avoid any characterization of the outbreak not supported by information on these websites. There have been comments from some politicians and news sources clearly influenced by the potential political effect of the outbreak. The HOA board of directors should avoid using or adopting extreme or unfounded characterizations not supported on government websites.
  2. Provide daily or enhanced cleaning and/or disinfection of the common area surfaces described above under Minimum Recommended Actions.
  3. Provide cleaning of individual unit door handles and door surfaces that enter into common area such as doors to units in common area hallways.
  4. Increase stock of cleaning supplies for periods of shortages or delivery interruptions. 
  5. Identify and plan for any special procedures, actions, or precautions that should be taken in the HOA if community transmission starts in your area or if one or more persons becomes sick in your community and it is confirmed or suspected to be the New Coronavirus. This may include extra cleaning and potentially closing clubhouses, hot tubs, pools, and other community amenities.
  6. Identify and plan for any special procedures, actions, or precautions that need to be addressed in case home sheltering is recommended or becomes mandatory.
  7. Identify and plan for any special procedures, actions, or precautions that may need to be implemented to prevent risk of infection by guests in the community, cleaning persons, delivery persons, visiting health care providers, and other visitors.
  8. Discuss with essential vendors, managers, and employees how they are planning for the outbreak to find out if essential services or supplies may be interrupted and to plan on how to minimize or mitigate any potential interruption. This could include garbage removal services, maintenance services (elevator, boiler, etc.), management services, and snow or ice removal services.
  9. Identify and plan for how the HOA will prevent or minimize the potential for transmission of the new Coronavirus by or through any of its own employees, which may include the need for use of masks, gloves, sanitizers, and other precautionary measures.
  10. Consider organizing volunteers from the community to regularly, perhaps daily, check on those who are isolated or at high risk, including the elderly. These are people who need to avoid in-person contact as much as possible due to the increased risk of serious complications or death if they are infected. These checks can be performed by email or telephone to avoid in-person contact. Checks could include verifying the person is symptom free, has sufficient food and water, has sufficient regular medications, and has sufficient personal items to care for themselves. These volunteer groups should consider planning on a course of action if they encounter a person who develops symptoms, does not have sufficient food or personal items for personal care, or is unable to obtain regular medications without leaving their home and risking exposure. The course of action in case of problems could include calling relatives, police, health care providers, or other government agencies for assistance. Planning could include identifying the appropriate people and agencies to contact in case of problems.
  11. Evaluate HOA controlled or provided internet or WiFi networks for potential increased loads during periods of increased home sheltering. Upgrade now if necessary.
  12. Evaluate the potential effect of increased home deliveries of food and other items, and prepare for increased volume of such deliveries. This may include the need to evaluate increased consideration for security and storage of such items, the need to minimize in-person contact with delivery persons associated with such deliveries by establishing staging or delivery areas that minimize the exposure of the community, and the potential for increased cleaning associated with potential contamination to surfaces and door handles by delivery personnel. 

The lawyers at Morris Sperry will keep you updated on this serious issue and continue to provide practical advice and information on its website. For legal advice related to the new Coronavirus and how it might impact the operations of your Utah HOA, the lawyers at Morris Sperry are the lawyers to call in Utah.

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