Staging a comeback isn’t easy. Without a strategy in place, things can go from bad to worse pretty quickly. That’s why, when it comes to reopening the country, the states and the economy, everyone has a plan. Does your community have a reopening plan for your facilities and amenities?
Let’s talk strategies to your community association’s COVID Comeback:
Is it Safe to Reopen?
Reopening is a decision that gets made on multiple levels. If your county, region or state is still under stay at home orders, follow the instructions of the authorities. But if your location, like many in Utah and around the country, is under a limited reopening plan, then the decision is up to the board as to what that looks like for your community.
Your board should be ready to answer these questions with your reopening plan:
- What do we have to do as we reopen?
- Should we open in phases?
- What resources will we need to reopen?
- How long will it take to open?
- What changes are needed in our basic operating procedures?
- What will the ‘new normal’ look like?
Even if you do reopen your amenities, it’s still a personal choice for each resident to decide if they want to take advantage of facilities or if they want to hold off until they feel more comfortable. The only actions the community can take is to follow the guidelines to keep residents as safe as possible.
A Word on Liability
While there is currently no national liability shield in place for businesses or facilities, there are discussions happening on Capitol Hill. Lawsuits against companies who workers claim have failed to provide proper precautions have already been filed. So potential liability should be a concern. The prevailing opinion is that if your organization followed CDC and local guidelines to the best of your ability, the organization will most likely not be held accountable for exposure.
Regardless of what the law says, it helps to ensure you are protected. Thus, the first step in your reopening strategy should be to review your insurance policies to see what your policies cover, or do not. Work with your community manager to check general liability and D&O policies for exclusions regarding viruses, contamination, or civil authority restrictions.
If you are still concerned, it’s OK for the board to delay reopening a facility, or take stricter measures to protect the organization. One guide we found suggested a signed affidavit by each person entering a facility to say that they have not been in contact with the coronavirus. It’s not clear how enforceable such a document would be in court, but it could serve as another layer of protection for the community.
General Guidelines for Reopening Facilities
In general, you should follow all of the CDC, state, and local government guidelines for any reopening strategy. (links included below for these guidelines) That includes overall standards like:
- Encourage Social Distancing of at least 6 feet
- Encourage use of face coverings for both nose and mouth
- Encourage frequent hand washing or sanitizing, and provide access where possible
- Encourage high-risk residents to stay in their homes to reduce risk
- Limit access to recommended crowd sizes, particularly for enclosed or indoor spaces
- Frequently sanitize high-touch/communal areas with approved cleaning techniques (see the CDC cleaning guide here)
- Post signage to promote responsible behavior (see resources at the end of this article, or use our generic community association facility sign)
Due to the fact that most community association facilities are unmanned public spaces, actions like taking temperatures or enforcing PPE are not required. While a frequent sanitation routine by community staff or a sanitation company is strongly encouraged, homeowners should be made aware that they are entering the facility at their own risk.
Any public community bathrooms should be kept open so that residents can easily access them to wash their hands. Prop open doors so residents do not have to touch the handles and consider installing hands-free soap and towel dispensers if you do not already have them.
If you do not have bathrooms near your facilities, consider adding touchless sanitation stations.
Reopening the Pool
Swimming pools are the most common amenity offered by community associations, and residents fatigued from sheltering in place and wanting to take advantage of the nicer weather may be clamoring to see a reopening of their neighborhood pool. The good news is that with the chemicals in the pool water, experts say that the Coronavirus will not transmit through the water, so it is safe to swim. That said, residents will still need to follow guidelines to stay safe when they are not fully submerged! Hard surfaces can carry the virus for up to 72 hours.
Here are the CDC Guidelines for reopening Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Features. If your water-based facility has not been maintained during the lockdown, be sure to follow these guidelines before reopening to residents.
We’ve created a printable Pool Safety sign you can post at your pool.
- No Masks in the Water
While in most circumstances masks are strongly encouraged to protect ourselves and others, swimming is one of the few times when a mask is NOT recommended because it can obstruct breathing. That makes it more important that you protect swimmers in other ways. (Residents NOT in the water are still encouraged to wear masks!)
- Limit Crowds
Consider setting staggered times for residents to use the pool, or offer a reservation system where you can limit the number of people at the pool at any given time. Pool Passes or even a simple sign-up sheet can work. Use the gathering size guidelines offered by your local government for your current stage. (For example, no more than 10 people in the pool area at a time, if guidelines suggest crowds no larger than 10.)Events such as water aerobics, swim meets, pool parties and swim lessons should also follow these steps, or be canceled altogether.
- Pool Furniture
Rearrange the pool furniture (or remove it entirely) to encourage social distancing. In addition to your regular sanitization routine, consider providing sanitation supplies and encouraging residents to wipe down the furniture before and after use.
Reopening the Gym
One of the first places residents may be eager to re-enter is the gym. Precor has released a Bounce Back Faster guide to reopening commercial gyms. Even if your gym is not at that level, the advice here for individual equipment areas is helpful.
- Remove Hard to Clean Equipment
Yoga mats, bands, and foam blocks and rollers are made of porous materials that are harder to disinfect. Consider removing these from workout areas and encouraging residents to bring their own materials.
- Self Sanitization
In addition to the thorough sanitization, the association must provide on a regular basis, consider providing sanitation supplies, and requesting that residents wipe down the equipment before and after use to protect themselves and their fellow community members.
- Moving the Equipment
Social distancing is even more important in the gym where exercisers are breathing heavily and sweating. Move or cover equipment so people are spread out at 10’ intervals, and consider positioning the equipment so people do not face each other while working out. In free exercise areas, consider taping off 10-foot intervals to help encourage ample distancing.
- 1 at a Time in Small Gyms
If your community’s gym is too small for social distancing, consider a one household at a time policy for the gym. An occupied/open sign on the door can indicate when someone is using the gym.
Reopening The Playground
- Limit Liability with Signage
Experts are recommending that parents avoid taking their children to playground facilities during the pandemic. Children are less likely to adhere to social distancing and hygiene recommendations and it is difficult to enforce crowd guidelines in open play areas. However, if your board does decide to reopen the playgrounds, be sure to post signage that will help limit your liability.
- Sanitize Frequently
If your community has a playground, sanitization is critical. Virus particles can live up to three days on plastic and metal surfaces. Burke has provided an excellent video to show how to properly clean and sanitize your playground equipment here.
Reopening Sports Facilities
Golf courses, tennis courts, shuffle ball, handball, and other sporting facilities should be cautiously reopened using the general guidelines.
- Park And Play
For Golf Courses, the NGCOA has created a checklist to help your course institute a ‘Park and Play’ program, which allows for safer play on the course. While these guidelines are specific to golfing, they could easily be adapted to most sporting facilities.
- Back to Golf
The Allied Golf Organization has put together an operations guide for a phased opening of golfing facilities. This includes detailed instructions for changes in rules of play, clubhouses, food handling, and more. They have also provided a handy golf-specific sign you can print out and post.
- The Clubhouse
The Clubhouse Management Association of America has provided Considerations for Reopening a Clubhouse.
- Safer Tennis
The US Tennis Association has provided a guideline for playing tennis safely.
- Mitigate Risk
To help residents assess the risk of various sporting activities, Project Play has put together an excellent risk assessment guide for most sporting activities. The guide provides recommendations of low, medium, and high-risk activities within each sport. Consider sharing it in your next newsletter.
Reopening Communal Gardens
If your community is lucky enough to have gardening options, this comprehensive guide to safe gardening during the Pandemic will be a welcome resource.
- Limit Crowds
If your community has a communal garden, consider scheduling times for residents. A sign-in sheet at the entrance is an easy way to allow residents to coordinate gardening times.
- Gardening Tools
Encourage residents to bring their own tools rather than sharing gardening tools. If tools must be shared, consider providing sanitation supplies, and request that residents wipe down the tools after use to protect their fellow community members.
Are you a Utah Condo or HOA looking for a management company that can help you establish your reopening strategy? Take advantage of this free strategic evaluation to see if HOA Strategies is a good fit for your community.