By Drew R. Mulhare, CMCA, LSM, PCAM, Broker (VA)
Association members are understandably concerned about the issue of whether HOAs have a duty to inform residents about the number of COVID-19 cases within their communities as well as the street addresses of COVID-19 patients. This is a new challenge for all of us. At the Ford’s Colony Homeowner’s Association in Williamsburg, VA, where I serve as the General Manager, we heard from a few residents who felt a need for this information as a means of avoiding potential infection.
We know from epidemiologists and the data evolving each day that we are all at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and therefore we must act accordingly with social distancing, hand washing, proper sanitization, and wearing masks when in common areas and outside in the community. After much research and consulting with the Medical Director at Sentara Williamsburg Emergency Room, our Board of Directors determined that it is not appropriate to reveal the names and street addresses of those infected with the coronavirus. A specific set of social distancing guidelines and sanitation protocol may be applicable to condominium communities with shared common areas, such as hallways and elevators. For residents of Ford’s Colony, “Stay At Home” guidance asks that residents remain on their own private property as Ford’s Colony is a community of single family homes and townhomes. Our common area facilities, such as the clubhouse and exterior courts, are currently closed to all users.
As a business we must equally respect the privacy and safety of our residents. COVID-19 testing is not yet as widely available as we wish and it is possible for asymptomatic individuals to carry and spread the virus. Reporting an individual’s identity may be considered an invasion of privacy for the victim, as well as create a false sense of security for others. Moreover, medical authorities and government agencies are not reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases within our community association to our business. We don’t have a reliable sense of the number of people infected with the virus. If we know of a case, it is often third-hand information. When and if we learn of confirmed cases in our community it’s our role to try to support the victim and family – to ask if that resident will self-quarantine and for how long, and to determine what assistance they need from management or the board while quarantining (mail, package deliveries, garbage removal, etc.). For everyone, regardless of the neighbor’s health, we need to heed the advice to be protective of ourselves and each other by practicing good hygiene and social distancing. So for our community, we separated the inherent want to know from the need and practicality of knowing.
The Community Associations Institute (CAI) offers excellent COVID-19 Resources for Community Associations including Federal, State and Local Government Action Summaries; Essential Worker Templates; Downloadable Printed Forms and Graphics; and a series of Frequently Asked Questions where experts address issues relating to closing common areas, assessments, cleaning procedures, meetings and elections. To access these resources go to: https://advocacy.caionline.org/covid-19-resources-community-associations/
We are fighting COVID-19 as a nation, a state, and a community. Now is a time to take care of each other and to assume the shared responsibility of limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Drew Mulhare is Chair of the CAMICB Board of Commissioners and is the General Manager of the Ford’s Colony Homeowners Association.