30 August 2021

What happens if COVID-19 comes to your apartment complex?

| James Coleman
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Grand Central Towers

Grand Central Towers in Woden. Its pool area was listed as an exposure site last week. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Canberra’s high-rise apartment blocks have had a couple of close shaves with COVID-19. The pool area of Grand Central Towers in Woden and the Metropol in the city were on the daily list of casual contact exposure sites last week, highlighting the particular issues around high density living.

If you’re living in an apartment complex alongside others and sharing common areas such as lifts and stairwells, you may be wondering what happens if the virus turns up in your building, or even next door. So what’s the advice from strata managers who are on the frontlines in this complex situation?

If someone does return to your apartment complex with a positive test result, they will immediately quarantine within their unit for 14 days, while anyone else living within the complex remains under the same orders as everyone else in the ACT.

Vantage Strata managing director Chris Miller says that the potential for exposure in high-density living is definitely there but probably less likely than most people would assume given the design of the buildings.

READ ALSO Government, building managers prepared for high-rise COVID risk

“For the most part, and particularly for any modern building constructed in the last 20 years, residents don’t permeate throughout the whole building. The major risk areas are the common amenities such as gyms; however, the vast majority of buildings have limited use of these areas during community outbreaks in Canberra.”

In some cases, the local government health body may elect to shut down the entire building. This has happened several times in Sydney and Melbourne.

“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that that will happen here in the ACT, but that will be dictated by ACT Health, and the Owner’s Corporation and strata managers would obviously have to comply with those directions,” Chris says.

He says that one positive case in the building may not necessarily mean that everyone else in the building is at great risk and that, therefore, the entire building should be locked down.

Chris Miller

Vantage Strata managing director Chris Miller says exposure to a COVID-19 case in an apartment complex is unlikely given the design of modern buildings. Photo: Vantage Strata.

Vantage Strata manages the day-to-day operations of buildings and comes up with proposals for the Owner’s Corporation to follow in line with the best ACT Health advice available at any given time.

Additionally, Strata Communities Australia (ACT), the peak body for the strata industry, has published detailed best practice guidelines for strata and building managers, owners, and residents. These guidelines are available through your strata manager.

These best practices typically include wiping down all shared hard surfaces once a day and closing off gyms, pools, and other nonessential shared areas.

Vantage Strata building manager Alistair Scott says they’ve yet to have a positive case in any of their buildings.

“We basically constructed all of the COVID protocols for apartment living for our sites during the first lockdown, and then we’ve just maintained those and improved them as issues have arisen,” he says.

“As onsite managers, our core function is to make the building a safe, healthy environment for people to live in.”

READ ALSO ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ ask strata industry leaders

Those quarantining in their apartments may not be required to tell Building Managers of their situation for privacy reasons, but Alistair says that if they are informed, building managers can help out supplying food items, taking away rubbish, and other essential services.

“I’ve had a few people report to me, and I’ve done the waste control for them and got them milk and bread if they needed it.”

Managing director Chris Miller says it is good to see a return to the community spirit that was on show during the 2020 outbreak.

“A lot of people living in strata buildings had a really positive community response to those who were isolating. Neighbours checked up on how they were going, collected groceries for them, and things like that,” he says.

“We really saw the start of a real coming together from people who perhaps previously hadn’t engaged in much of a meaningful fashion.”

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We are considering downsizing to an apartment, and this is a bit of a wake-up call. Yes, I think some of the anxiety will be lifted with more vaccinations (so, bring that on), but despite the positive-spin comments by Strata Managers in this article, high density living by definition puts people in closer contact potentially increasing your exposure to any little or not so little bug or germ floating around.

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