William D. McCracken for Habitat Magazine
Pandemic fatigue is real. My family and I have been lucky in that none of us has gotten sick so far, but I still had a moment of grim contemplation when we started planning for our daughter’s eighth birthday for March – the second consecutive birthday she will spend in lockdown.
My colleagues and I have heard similar stories from our co-op and condo clients. Recent weeks have been particularly hard, probably a combination of the cold, dark days, the cross-currents of anxiety about the new virus variants and the stuttering rollout of the vaccines – plus the sheer mounting toll of time and loss.
The symptoms are showing. We’re getting more and more reports of residents resisting mask-wearing mandates and asking for pandemic protocols to be watered down. However, with all sympathy to frustrated residents suffering from acute cases of pandemic fatigue, now is not the time for co-op and condo boards to relax efforts to combat the virus. On the contrary, boards should consider tightening rules for what we can reasonably hope to be the final surge of the virus this spring.
One request we have heard repeatedly is for gym spaces to be re-opened, but we have cautioned boards about doing so. First, the science is clear that the virus transmits most efficiently in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, which describes most gym spaces very well. Second, in order for gyms to operate in compliance with the law, there are significant expenses required to get them cleared for reopening, and then to continuously monitor and clean them after they are opened. Safety aside, the end result is likely to be that the building incurs significant expenses for something that relatively few people will use.
Time to pick and choose. Boards also should not be relaxing any rules in place on visits or deliveries, because every close contact that can be avoided will reduce transmissions of the virus. On the other hand, for those buildings that have closed their terraces and roof decks of significant size, they might consider re-opening them. The same science that says that indoor spaces are risky says that outdoor spaces are relatively safe, at least with masking and social distancing. And access to outdoor space is likely to help alleviate pandemic fatigue.
Speaking of masks, boards should make sure that management is strictly enforcing existing mask mandates. Even those rules might not be enough with the new, more transmittable virus variants circulating. In fact, people are increasingly trading in cotton masks for medical-grade masks, or even “double masking.” Although boards might not want to issue such a requirement to their residents, they might at least consider upgrading the quality of masks supplied to staff.
Boards should also encourage vaccinations. Obviously, boards cannot force their residents to get vaccinated or make vaccination appointments for them, and even requiring staff to get vaccinated is potentially problematic. But anything that will help achieve mass vaccination is worth doing. This could include things as simple as posting information about vaccination sites, or providing paid time off for vaccination appointments and incentive pay to staff members who get vaccinated.
For co-op and condo boards and residents suffering from pandemic fatigue, I encourage you to hold the line a little longer. If the authorities can work out the logistical problems with the vaccines and convince enough people to get them when available – and if boards can help facilitate the process – we may be able to finally get out of this pandemic before too much longer. Continued vigilance is a must. Relaxing now is not an option. It’s true what they say: no rest for the weary.
William D. McCracken is a partner at the law firm Ganfer Shore Leeds & Zauderer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.