CBC News: Welcome, but 'a little late': Hamilton mandates COVID-19 measures in high-rise apartments, condos

Posted July 8, 2021

Owners and operators of high-rise apartment and condominium buildings in Hamilton will be required by the city to follow certain cleanliness measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But residents say they wished the change came sooner. 

Kathy Johnson is a member of the downtown chapter of Hamilton ACORN — a tenants rights group that pushed for the requirements following COVID-19 outbreaks in several apartments in the city. The outbreaks accounted for 225 cases total and one death. 

"We wish these recommendations were made mandatory last year when tenants first voiced concerns about landlords not following guidelines and the need for mandatory measures to protect tenants," she said. 

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, is issuing a letter that outlines the mandatory infection and  prevent control measures. The rules only apply to apartment and condominium buildings with twelve storeys or more.

The letter was presented to the board of health on Wednesday. Council still needs to officially approve it.

Among the requirements, shared items and high-touch surfaces will need to be cleaned and disinfected twice daily. Common areas will also have to contain "hand hygiene stations" or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

It's also mandatory for owners to ensure the building's HVAC system (including duct and filter system) is "functioning as intended" and maintained. 

'A little late'

Richard Weiss is a member of the tenant committee for Rebecca Towers — the site of the first reported apartment building outbreak in Hamilton. He said it was an important change to ensure owners are doing the best they can to keep people safe.

But, he added, it comes "a little late." 

"Most of the tenants that I speak to through the tenant committee would agree that it's welcome step for the city to take, but yes, it is late in the game to be taking this step," Weiss said. 

There were 107 residents and three staff members who contracted the virus at Rebecca Towers, and one person died. Other outbreaks included Village Apartments and Wellington Place.

Weiss said he's also encouraging people to start tenant organizations of their own, as he's seen some action being taken to improve things since mobilizing. He said hand sanitizers have been implemented on each floor at his building after a "push," but cleaning staff seem overworked. 

Most buildings affected are downtown

Ward 2 (downtown) councillor Jason Farr said the outbreaks were "one of his worst fears realized." He said he's spoken with building owners in the area who have "no problems" with the requirements. 

The city says there are approximately 90 twelve-storey buildings in Hamilton that would have to follow the instructions. Most of those fall in Ward 2. 

The direction excludes hotels, motels, hospitals, retirement homes and long-term care facilities.

City councillors decided to explore making elements mandatory after ACORN members delegated to the board of health on June 14, describing health and safety concerns they had with their homes. 

"It's important that these measures are enforceable in the last stretch of the pandemic, especially when many neighbourhoods have low vaccination rates," Johnson said. 

Capacity limits, other requirements

Here are some other items that will be required:

  • A posted COVID-19 safety plan and a designated employee in charge of it.
  • Screening of workers.
  • Capacity limits of common areas like laundry rooms and elevators to ensure physical distancing. 
  • Wearing a mask or face covering in common areas with specifically-worded signs posted at their entrances. 
  • Educating workers or contractors on how to wear a face covering properly. 
  • Ensuring employees wear appropriate personal protective equipment. 
  • Posting the cleaning schedule and using cleaners and disinfectants with a drug identification number. 
  • Posting updates from Hamilton Public Health. 

The city says enforcement will be "complaint based." People can call in with complaints to the city's call centre, and the COVID-19 enforcement team will investigate.  

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Article by Christine Rankin for CBC News

 

 

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