As we continue to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 virus on our daily routines, we must consider what those routines might look like in the coming weeks and months. For many residents of homeowners associations, that daily routine might include use of various amenities in the community. Since the various executive orders issued by Governor Walz focus on public amenities, the board of directors of an association is left to grapple with what’s best for their community. Do we open the pool? The fitness center? The party room? What’s the best option?
Although enjoying a workout is part of many people’s daily routine, and getting exercise has proven benefits in lessening stress, anxiety and depression, I do not recommend this area be re-opened yet. Nonetheless, if an association decides to re-open its fitness facilities, I recommend, at a minimum:
- Arranging for more frequent cleaning/disinfecting by the association—ideally after every use
- Requiring users to make an appointment so as to better maintain social distancing and allow for cleaning/disinfecting between uses
- Removing some equipment to, again, enable better social distancing
- Strongly encouraging users to wear masks (which admittedly is difficult while working out)
- Reminding users to wipe down equipment after use
Many associations do not have and cannot hire adequate staff to clean and disinfect the area and equipment as often as is prudent or to monitor users’ compliance with the restrictions imposed. As a result, they are opting not to re-open the fitness facilities right now.
However, now that nicer weather is finally here, people should have more opportunities to get outside and enjoy a variety of fitness activities.
In the case of a party room, social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting are the primary concerns. In addition, an association would also potentially be allowing people from outside the community into the community. That alone would likely increase the risk of spreading the virus.
I recommend the party room remain closed, but if an association opts to re-open its party room, I would suggest imposing stringent restrictions, such as, at a minimum:
- Limiting attendees to no more than 10 people
- Strongly encouraging attendees wear masks
- Holding the host responsible for ensuring guests maintain social distancing
- Prohibiting shared food or drink
- Requiring use of disposable plates, cups, flatware, napkins, etc.
- Prohibiting people from outside the community from attending any gathering
- Requiring the host to clean and disinfect after use, but also arranging for the association to do a thorough cleaning and disinfecting as well (and charging a cleaning fee to the host)
Again, since many associations do not have adequate staff to clean and disinfect the area as often as is prudent or to monitor users’ compliance with the restrictions imposed, they are opting not to re-open the fitness facilities.
Many Minnesotans are craving the opportunity to spend time enjoying the recreational activities that define “summer” in Minnesota, including swimming. While scientists have indicated that the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus in a pool is likely minimal, there is a risk of contracting the virus from the furniture and other items on the pool deck. I recommend pools remain closed, but if an association opts to re-open the pool, I would suggest imposing restrictions similar to those noted above. Instead of appointment to use the facilities, an association could limit the time various groups can use the pool so that everyone who wishes to can enjoy the use of the pool.
What’s the “Right” Decision?
Unfortunately, there is no single “right” answer. Boards must make decisions based on what is right for their respective associations. What is “right” will vary among associations.
As more scientific and medical data is shared, associations can use that information to continue to evaluate decisions regarding opening amenities. Stay informed and be willing to revisit decisions when new information becomes available. Of course, it is important—perhaps now more than ever—to clearly communicate decisions and the rationale for those decisions so that residents of a community understand that the decisions regarding re-opening amenities are based on the information available at the time—not by rolling the “Magic 8 Ball” or throwing darts at a dartboard.