The naming of two major high-rise residential towers as casual contact exposure sites last week has highlighted their vulnerability during the pandemic as the government plans for potential management issues.
To date, Canberra’s private apartments blocks have stayed clear of transmission, but Condamine Court, the multi-unit public housing complex in Turner, is now in quarantine with one resident testing positive for COVID-19, and all occupants are being supported by government and community services.
Last week the pool area of Grand Central Towers in Woden and the Metropol in the city appeared in the daily list of exposure sites, a situation the government takes seriously and has been preparing for.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said assessing such properties was a detailed process involving a range of factors.
“In any high rise when you start to get cases, and they have not been in quarantine during the infectious period, they may go up and down in lifts, there may be multiple touchpoints, and they pass a lot of people,” she said.
“There is a real concern that in that situation, you get a number of cases. We’re learning the lessons from other jurisdictions about how we might approach that scenario.”
A government spokesperson later said that should an outbreak occur in a private multi-unit residential setting, ACT Health would undertake a risk assessment for the location to determine the appropriate response.
“People living in apartment buildings are reminded to wear a mask before entering the building or car park and not remove it until they are inside their apartment, and only leave home for essential reasons,” the spokesperson said.
“Additional cleaning of common areas and high touchpoint sites, for example, elevator buttons, is encouraged.”
The spokesperson said a private apartment complex may not have the same high-risk profile as a public housing complex.
Condamine Court required specific measures such as in-reach testing and support services because it was identified as a high-risk setting that accommodates some people with complex care needs.
The Strata Community Association ACT has just issued a guide to buildings managers on preventing an outbreak and what to do if there is one.
SCA ACT president Shelley Mulherin said their member’s-only Best Practice Guideline to COVID-19 & Apartment Living was a practical guide to ensuring the building kept running, and staff and residents kept safe.
It covers topics such as managing staff and resources, cleaning, signage, communications, social distancing, essential services, and managing moves in and out of a building.
Ms Mulherin said it was important for strata managers to be informed, have a plan and, as often the first port of call when there is a problem, take the lead.
“We need to understand the inherent risk in these environments that we’re managing,” she said.
“We’re inherently part of the management of good, healthy buildings and COVID has just brought that right to the fore.”
With about 10 per cent of the ACT population living in apartments, Ms Mulherin said it was inevitable that there would be cases.
She was confident that the organisation was educating members and across the information coming from government.
But she said SCA ACT could do with more clarity on essential services and what contingency plans the government had in place.
“If there is a more specific conversation happening with respect to high density, that’s something I would welcome the government reaching out to us,” she said.