It’s no secret that COVID disrupted everything last summer and essentially forced people to stay in the confines of their homes. What used to be a relaxing atmosphere quickly shifted to work-from-home offices, day cares and the only escape from the outside world.
Sadly, this also meant people in multifamily communities couldn’t use amenities like pools and gyms, as community staff and managers tried to protect against the spread of the virus.
As states have loosened restrictions with vaccination rates climbing, more communities are looking to welcome back residents to shared spaces. However, don’t expect things to return to the way they were prior to the outbreak of the pandemic right away. There is still the threat of another spike in COVID cases, and states are closely monitoring the situation. But that doesn’t mean amenities should remain closed in the meantime.
Instead, community managers and staff have found solutions that enable residents to return to shared spaces while promoting health and safety measures. These practices will allow property managers to pivot quickly should COVID cases rise again, and some of the practices will stick long after the pandemic.
What COVID changed about amenity usage
Community amenities are a huge selling point for residents when it comes to choosing a new place to live. Staffs have worked to find solutions so that they could open the doors to these shared spaces once again. From enacting social distancing to cleaning equipment more frequently and from placing hand sanitizer stations around the property to asking residents to wear masks, these safety protocols have once again allowed residents to use amenities like indoor meeting spaces and gyms, as well as outdoor spaces like pools and community gardens.
But opening these spaces back up also required more preparation from staff and the help of residents to follow health and safety protocols. For example, prior to COVID, pools always needed to be properly staged—chairs nicely setup, the deck cleaned and the water clear of debris. While those remain important tasks, there’s also the added duties of spacing out chairs to ensure proper social distancing, limiting the amount of pool guests at a time to prevent overcrowding and wiping down chairs and other equipment more frequently to ensure cleanliness.
Other creative solutions include moving indoor activities outside. For communities that offer group activities such as yoga classes or have an indoor movie theater for residents to use, staff can easily move events outdoors to allow for better social distancing and to have an open-air environment, which helps prevent the spread of the virus.
If there’s been one silver lining for multifamily communities during the pandemic, it’s that residents now have increased awareness of the health and safety protocols that go into keeping facilities well-maintained and open for them to use.
Ensuring safety for staff, residents
The last couple of months have felt as close to normal since before the pandemic, with COVID numbers seemingly declining and health protocols relaxing enough to allow residents to take advantage of the summer months and use amenities. However, that can change at any moment as new strains of the virus are spreading. To protect against a potential outbreak within a community, there are certain steps staff and residents can take to ensure their safety.
Communication is Key
Staff need to send out emails and post signage around the property to inform residents of the current state of the outbreak and how it is impacting the community.
The more informed everyone is on the property grounds, the more likely they will not only know of mask mandates or social distancing protocols but also follow the guidelines set forth by staff. Communicating updates or changes in a timely and effective way will ensure the health of everyone on site is protected.
Maintain Cleanliness Standards
While it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for communities to provide clean common spaces, COVID sure did amplify the need to do so. Now, it goes without saying that staff need to clean equipment in gyms, wipe down high-touch surfaces and refill soap and hand sanitizer machines, among other tasks, at the start of each day as well as check on it regularly throughout the day.
Additionally, residents need to know that they are a part of the solution, too. The more that they wipe down gym equipment or pool chairs after use, the cleaner the facility is for the next person to use.
Conduct Regular Spot Checks
If residents are moving chairs around at pools or not following indoor mask guidelines, they’re increasing the risk of spreading the virus. That’s why it’s important for staff to conduct more regular spot checks throughout the day to not only ensure the cleanliness of the facilities but to ensure that any health protocols in place are being followed. This is especially true as the delta variant of COVID is spreading.
Everyone is looking forward to the day when COVID is no longer a major disruption to everyday life. And while the last couple months have been a nice respite to the once strictly enforced lockdown rules, we’re not in the clear yet.
For residents and staff of multifamily communities, it remains important to be informed about the ongoing pandemic and to follow the health and safety protocols that are in place on the property ground. The team effort between staff and residents may be the only thing that helps keep amenities open for use while the pandemic continues.
Ricardo Alicea is the managing director of asset management at Wendover Housing Partners. He is a fundamental part of establishing the organizational vision to assist management staff in adapting to residents’ needs and to the ever-changing multifamily environment.