The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone’s lives almost overnight. And with shelter-in-place orders handed down across the country, it’s crucial that apartment dwellers heed the mandates and suggestions from government agencies at the federal, state and local levels.
Living in an apartment during this crisis presents a unique challenge not faced by those who live in detached single-family residences. That’s because of the close proximity of apartment units to one another, as well as multiple common spaces such as entryways and lobbies, stairs, elevators, mailboxes, laundry rooms, recreation rooms and pools or patios.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued several guidelines that have been amplified by other agencies that are designed to minimize exposure to the virus. They address personal hygiene, as well as keeping your living space clean and disinfected.
Here’s a look at the major ways you can stay safe, whether you live alone, with a roommate or two, or with your family.
1. Social distancing
This term entered the coronavirus lexicon as soon as it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Health officials immediately advised people to keep at least six feet apart in an attempt to help stop the spread of the virus by flattening the curve of infection. This can be incredibly challenging when living in an apartment building, where residents are likely to encounter others in close proximity in shared spaces, and where there are often multiple people living in a unit.
Common sense would dictate residents giving each other their space, both inside and outside of your apartment:
- If you have a roommate or family members, learn how to properly distance yourselves and give each other their personal space. If necessary, spend as much time in your own room rather than gathering in a common space, such as the living room or kitchen, unless you absolutely need to. You can take this to an extreme by taking turns eating meals rather than eating together.
- If you see someone approaching you in a hallway or on a walkway, stand aside or move back and give them as much space as possible to let them pass, preferably six feet, if possible. Hopefully, you’ll be granted the same courtesy.
- If you must use an elevator, the best practice would be to wait until you can ride it alone. Use a knuckle or an elbow to push the button. Various apartment associations have urged building managers to provide hand sanitizer at elevators and to sterilize surfaces such as elevator buttons several times a day.
- You can learn how to open a door by pushing it open with your hip, shoulder or even your foot. Or if you need to pull it open, use your elbow. Same for faucets in a shared space.
- Families with children should not take them to parks or playgrounds and should cancel playdates
While kids carrying the virus are less likely to get sick than adults, they can still get a cold or the flu. Rather than taking them to the doctor’s office, parents need to learn how to isolate an ill child in the apartment.
2. Wash your hands often
Health officials cannot stress this enough — wash your hands as often as you can. That means thoroughly, which many Americans apparently haven’t been doing all along. Health authorities say you should wash with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t know how long that is, sing “Happy Birthday” twice and that should do the trick.
Authorities recommend that you wash your hands before preparing food, before you eat, after using the restroom and after touching a common surface. By now, you shouldn’t be having any physical contact with others, even roommates.
You should also use hand sanitizer as often as you can.
3. Don’t touch your face
Health authorities warn that the virus enters a person’s body through the eyes, mouth or nose. As hard as it is to do, avoid touching your face, particularly if you’ve recently touched a common space or a dirty surface. One health professional estimated we touch our face an average of 90 times a day, so it can be hard to settle into this “new normal.”
4. Cover your mouth
If you have to sneeze or cough, turn away from others and cover your mouth as best you can. The best thing to do is to sneeze or cough into your elbow. Or you can sneeze or cough into a tissue and immediately dispose of it. Be mindful of others in a shared space.
5. Clean and disinfect regularly
This is vitally important when more than one person lives in an apartment unit. Health authorities recommend using disinfecting wipes and sprays on surfaces, such as tables, countertops, light switches and kitchen surfaces, such as refrigerator handles, knobs on stoves and the keypad on the microwave oven. Keep your bathroom as clean as possible, including sink and shower faucets, the toilet and even the light switch.
Other surfaces that need to be wiped down are your laptop keyboard, the TV remote and yes, your cell phone.
6. Stay stocked up
One of the more time-consuming, yet necessary, facets of apartment living is going out to do your grocery shopping, where you also need to use an abundance of caution in touching surfaces and food items. Experts advise that you can stock up without hoarding. As it is, storage space in your apartment is going to be limited.
Make sure you have a decent supply of non-perishable items, such as soup and other canned foods, sauces and dry staples such as pasta and rice. Plan your grocery shopping trips so that you’ll have a good supply of fresh food like milk, meats, fruits and vegetables.
Many people began hoarding cases of bottled water early in the crisis, but water districts have sent out advisories that the coronavirus doesn’t affect local water supplies. You’ll also need a good supply of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, tissues and personal hygiene supplies.
7. Be transparent
Residents should notify their building manager if they’ve been identified as a presumptive or confirmed case of COVID-19. Managers are expected to keep such information strictly confidential in order to support those residents.
Building managers should consider advising residents of known cases in the building without disclosing their identity. That will allow other residents to take further precautions.