What you should do if there is a COVID patient in your apartment community

CHENNAI: PANDEMIC ACTION PLAN FOR APARTMENT RESIDENTS AND RWAs

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Jains Green Acres Flats in Pallavaram. Pic: T Jai Ganesh

Soon after a COVID patient was identified in a gated-community in Chennai, panic struck other residents living in the housing society. The patient’s family was caught unawares as their flat was sealed, and they ran out of essentials. The apartment association swung into action at this point and arranged for essentials upon the family’s request.

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That, however, is not the only to-do in such circumstances. Although panic during a health emergency is unavoidable, it is highly advisable for every apartment community to have an action plan ready. From forming a crisis team to arranging essentials for all residents in the contained apartment, there are several details to be taken care of.

Wondering how to go about it? We have got your queries answered in this FAQ.

What are the key elements of the response plan that a housing society nust devise for a COVID-positive contingency?

Many housing societies in Chennai have formed a crisis team in view of the pandemic and its intensity. For instance, the Jains Green Acres Flat Owners’ Association has formed a team with two representatives from each block for micromanagement in handling emergency needs.

Jain’s Green Acres is a community in Pallavaram that has 22 blocks with 684 flats where over 3,000 people reside.

As part of the action plan, every representative is entrusted with the responsibility to communicate the status of COVID patients to the residents of the affected block on a regular basis, and work with the Pallavaram Municipality officials for disinfection and other activities.

Guidance from medical professionals living in the community is also sought by the crisis team.

How should a housing society coordinate with local body officials (Greater Chennai Corporation or any municipality around the city)? 

Many residents’ associations in the city maintain a cordial relationship with the corporation officials, that has helped them handle the crisis smoothly.

As soon as a resident is tested positive, the patient’s flat will be sealed. Upon identification of more cases on the same floor/block, the entire floor/block will be sealed. The corporation carries out immediate sanitisation/disinfection if a resident tests positive.

The association should contact and coordinate with the civic body for frequent santisation/disinfection process. Call the respective zonal COVID helplines, which will guide you on the exact processes and guidelines to be followed:

The apartment association should also keep the contact numbers of the police station closest to them handy. 

How can your society help the corporation when the contact tracing process is initiated in an apartment?

  • Maids working in the apartment complex will be contacted by GCC  and will be quarantined and tested based on GCC protocols. The association must provide contact details of all maids, drivers and facilitate any other contact tracing for GCC.
  • Domestic help working in the infected flat should be asked to home quarantine in her place and will not be allowed to enter the premises. If the domestic help had worked in other flats, they will be informed and asked to quarantine themselves.
  • Quarantined persons are suggested to monitor themselves over the next few days and report to GCC if any COVID symptom is experienced. On GCC’s advice or even by themselves, asymptomatic residents may wish to take a COVID test. 
  • The Association may be asked to submit the CCTV footage for secondary contact tracing.

What rules should apartment residents follow if only the infected flat/floor is sealed?

The sealing strategy will depend upon the epidemiological factors. According to a state government order, housing design, number of people living/working/visiting, floors, transport and other factors should be considered in making a decision in this respect.

While the corporation has not issued any guidelines for an affected housing society, most associations adopt certain practices to ensure that the virus does not spread. A few of the recommendations are:

  • Remain indoors if the affected family belongs to the same floor/block
  • Allow delivery persons only till the main gate 
  • Do not loiter in the complex without masks 
  • Maintain at least 1-metre distance from all if you have to step out
  • Mandate thermal screening for every housekeeping staff/delivery personnel enters the community
  • Non-essential staff can be asked to stay away to minimise contacts

Can apartments adopt additional restrictions for the block where the affected family stays?

Depending on the number of cases over a period of days, the containment period may be extended.

  • It is possible that the entire complex is sealed off with no movement into or out of the premises.
  • Essential movement may either be allowed through restricted members to ensure all deliveries and services can be done, or the GCC will ensure the same. 

What safety precautions should be undertaken while using the common areas?

Common areas like lift, lobby and the like in a housing society will be disinfected by civic body officials if the apartment is sealed.

In non-contained apartments, the housekeeping staff is allowed to report to work only if the caseload is low and should sanitise common areas every day. 

  • The floors, lobbies, lifts, railings of the affected blocks or entire premises should be disinfected by an internal team or it could be outsourced. 
  • PPE or equivalent kits for self-trained disinfecting staff should be provided.
  • Disinfection should be done using freshly prepared Sodium Hypochlorite (1%) or phenolic disinfectants.
  • All tower lifts, railings, lobby, floors, parking lots etc should be disinfected and scheduled periodically.

How should the waste from a patient’s house be handled?

According to guidelines issued by the GCC, quarantined/isolated residents should hand over biomedical waste such as used masks, gloves and the likes packed in a yellow bag to the sanitary workers. The yellow bags will be distributed to quarantined houses by the civic body every day. 

The biomedical waste should be disinfected using ordinary bleach solution (5%) or sodium hypochlorite solution (1%) and packed in the yellow bag and stored in a closed dustbin. The waste will be transported to GCC’s Bio-Medical Waste Processing Facility Centres and to the incinerator.

Dry waste can be collected at the end of home quarantine/isolation period. Otherwise, waste generation should be minimised.

How can essential commodities be provided in the apartment?

Many housing societies have essential stores inside their premises. For instance, Jains Green Acres has a vegetable shop within its compound that has been catering to the needs of the families. 

Enforcement of basic guidelines – masking, maintaining physical distancing and sanitising upon arriving at the store – should be done in apartments to ensure that the disease doesn’t spread.

If the entire housing society is sealed and there are no such stores, residents should request the civic body’s volunteers for arranging essentials. Requests can be made by contacting the zonal helpline number in the above poster.

How can the community extend help to the quarantined residents?

As the pandemic has snowballed into a humanitarian crisis, associations play a crucial role in helping the affected family in various ways.

If the affected family requires support with essentials, provisions may be dropped off at their doorstep with necessary precautions – maintaining one-metre distance, wearing a mask and washing hands thoroughly after visiting the house.

But while there is no compulsion regarding the above, under no circumstances should photographs and names of the patient and family be circulated on social media, as it may lead to ostracization and stigmatisation.

If any member of the society requires mental health support, check out these helplines.

If there are other critically ill (non-COVID) patients in the sealed building, how can they continue with treatment?

For every ward in GCC, a doctor is appointed to oversee the medical activities in the ward. If a portion/whole of the apartment is sealed, the resident needing medical help should immediately contact the civic body’s zonal helpline. The doctor attached to the ward will then guide the patient on further treatment plans.

Critically-ill patients include patients needing procedures such as blood transfusion or dialysis or who may have suffered a sudden illness like cardiac arrest. 

How can frontline workers living in housing societies report to duty?

As we are battling with a virus, the role of frontline workers such as doctors, nurses and sanitary staff is of prime importance. The Association must make arrangements for their movement as advised by civic body.

Frontline employees in housing societies should adhere to strict norms — restrict moving around the apartment and meeting other residents unnecessarily.

If found symptomatic, quarantining from the family is suggested.

Is there anything else that a residents’ association can do to contain the virus in its tracks?

As soon as apartment-dwellers at Jains Green Acres were are found to be COVID-positive, the association began distributing medicines such as Kabasura kudineer, Arsenicum albumin tablets, vitamin-C and zinc tablets to the residents. It is to be noted that these medicines do not cure COVID but are merely said to boost immunity.

(With inputs from Harsha Koda, Coordinator, Federation of OMR Residents Associations (FOMRRA), T Jai Ganesh, General Secretary of Jains Green Acres Flat Owners’ Association and Rakesh Ohri, President, The Central Park South Owners Association.)


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About Bhavani Prabhakar 64 Articles
Bhavani Prabhakar is Staff Reporter at Citizen Matters Chennai. She tweets at @_bhavaniprabha

1 Comment

  1. The article/news item is very useful for appartment dwellers relating to Covid-19 – which is still a learning experience for all of us.

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