Adapting to COVID-19: health and safety practices for housing providers
The arrival of COVID-19 has brought with it a set of unprecedented challenges for housing providers, not the least of which is ensuring a safe environment for tenants and staff. Ramping up cleaning protocols and communicating with tenants are critical in the current situation. We’ve outlined some of the protocols ONPHA Members have adopted to keep their properties and workspaces as safe as possible during the pandemic.
Enhanced cleaning protocols
Community housing providers were quick to adapt enhanced cleaning measures from the outset of increasing cases of COVID-19. ONPHA Members have reported that they have redeployed staff to ensure that common areas and points of contact including door handles and elevator buttons are cleaned more frequently.
Where possible, community housing providers are turning to fogging machines to disinfect large areas in a shorter period of time, reducing the need for staff redeployment to fulfill new cleaning protocols. Fogging machines spray a mist cloud containing a disinfectant that is not harmful to humans. The mist is able to get into the nooks and crannies that traditional cleaning practices can’t reach.
Some ONPHA members have reported that increasing the window in which custodial work is usually performed allows for lessened contact between tenants and staff – a safer outcome for both parties. Housing providers who are able to do so have also suggested bringing in contractors to clean on weekends to relieve regular staff and prevent burnout.
Review Toronto Public Health’s COVID-19 Guidance for Commercial or Residential Buildings for recommendations on cleaning frequency and disinfectants to use.
One of the possible gathering points of any residential building is the shared laundry room. Tenant usage of the laundry facilities has not decreased at this time. In fact, some ONPHA members have reported that they are beginning to offer free use of the laundry facilities to encourage tenants to do laundry more often to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
In order to encourage physical distancing, some providers have extended laundry room hours so that tenants can more easily avoid one another. Some housing providers have posted notices in their laundry rooms suggesting limited capacity to encourage physical distancing.
As laundry rooms are high-traffic areas, we recommend that they be included in your organization’s enhanced cleaning protocols.
Many housing providers are encouraging tenants to pay rent electronically at this time to limit contact with staff. Some organizations are directing tenants to report all issues or challenges that they need addressed to the central office to limit face-to-face interaction with staff and to allow organizations to prioritize all requests.
ONPHA Members are typically limiting in-unit maintenance and repairs to essential work only. In these cases, some providers require that tenants isolate themselves in a separate room if maintenance personnel must access their unit. Providers are generally continuing with pest control treatments to ensure that infestations don’t spread to other units. One ONPHA Member has told us that they are keeping a unit empty to allow tenants whose units are being treated to have somewhere to go.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
A lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) is an issue of ongoing concern for community housing providers and it’s absolutely essential equipment for those who provide long-term care or otherwise work to support vulnerable populations. To this end, ONPHA worked with sector partners to pen a letter to federal, provincial and territorial officials responsible for housing, advocating for increased community housing sector access to PPE. Click here to view the letter.
For providers and staff who do not work directly with vulnerable populations, Mask Use for Non-Healthcare Workers, a resource created by Public Health Ontario, provides useful guidelines for mask use and other precautions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
One common thread between the size and mandate of community housing providers is the need to communicate with tenants regularly and clearly. Keeping tenants informed is an important step in preserving the safety of both staff and tenants. Many providers have been performing regular wellness checks to keep tenants informed, to find out what needs they may have, and to help reduce feelings of social isolation. Click here to check out last week’s blog post and learn more about what ONPHA Members are doing to keep tenants informed, reduce social isolation and build a sense of community during the pandemic.
Public Health Ontario recently ran a webinar relevant to housing providers outlining COVID-19 prevention and control methods for congregate living. The webinar included information on best practices for controlling the spread in your buildings, information on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including how to take it on and off safely and when to use it, cleaning considerations for common areas such as laundry rooms and how to help facilitate and encourage physical distancing. If you missed this webinar, you can click here to download a copy of the presentation.
Our ONPHA Select purchasing program has recently connected with a new partner: Bargains Group. Bargains Group supplies PPE such as masks and face shields as well as hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray. Click here to learn more about Bargains Group and how they can help your organization during and after the pandemic.
Have questions about health and safety? Want to share your best practices? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to hear from you.
Keep checking onpha.on.ca/covid19 to stay up-to-date on the latest developments affecting the sector and visit our Member FAQ page to see answers to common issues facing community housing providers during the pandemic.