Posted July 12, 2021
Highrise landlords in Hamilton will be required to take steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their buildings after three major outbreaks this past spring.
Tenant advocates welcome the measure for buildings of 12 storeys or more but say the city took too long to impose them with the pandemic underway since March 2020.
“It’s good that the city has taken this action,” Richard Weiss, a resident of Rebecca Towers, said Wednesday.
But “it’s definitely late,” said Weiss, whose highrise at 235 Rebecca St. grappled with 110 cases and one death between mid-March and late May.
Earlier Wednesday, the city’s board of health agreed to oblige property managers of Hamilton’s roughly 90 highrise apartment and condo buildings to take steps to protect residents against coronavirus. They include:
- a posted safety plan to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in common areas;
- screening employees to ensure they comply with public health direction, including wearing masks;
- capacity limits in common areas, such as laundry rooms and elevators, to allow for physical distancing;
- enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces in common areas and shared items twice a day;
- access to hand-hygiene stations in all common areas such as lobbies, laundry and staff spaces;
- residents must be kept informed about COVID-19 public health measures through regular updates;
- heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems must in good working order.
Arefin Chowdhury — who was infected with COVID-19, along with this mother, during the outbreak at Rebecca Towers — applauded the city’s initiative.
But, like Weiss, he also questioned the timing. “It’s delayed, obviously.”
Last month, Coun. Jason Farr called for a staff report on potential measures after tenant groups, including Hamilton ACORN, complained about a lack of infection-control measures in buildings.
On Wednesday, the downtown councillor said the outbreaks — Rebecca Towers, Wellington Place at 125 Wellington St. N. and the Village at 151 Queen St. N. — were “one of my worst fears realized.”
Farr said the requirements aren’t “overly onerous” for landlords, and the measures would offer “peace of mind” for tenants.
A staff report noted coronavirus is mostly spread through close contact and exposure to respiratory droplets.
“As such, household members and close contacts of infected individuals continue to be at greatest risk of infection due to their direct contact with the COVID-19 virus.”
The risk, however, of indirect transmission through contact with contaminated surfaces is “low,” the report notes.
Studies show outbreaks in apartment and condo buildings can result from “both close contact exposure to individuals inside and outside the residential unit and through indirect or environmental routes of transmission.”
Public health responded to the outbreaks — there were 45 cases at Wellington Place and 74 at the Village — by working on infection-control measures with property managers.
Testing was also offered in the buildings. On-site vaccinations and times reserved at the FirstOntario clinic were also arranged after tenants at Rebecca Towers made public calls for targeted inoculation efforts.
Weiss and his neighbours have flagged concerns with maintenance at the 17-storey building, including one of two elevators that was out of service for upgrades during the pandemic.
“It took them five months to do it,” he said, noting it was harder for residents to practise physical distancing with a lift out of commission.
The landlord, Medallion, has set up more hand-sanitizer stations over the past several weeks but adequate ventilation on the building’s lower levels remains a concern, Weiss said.
A Medallion spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The city staff report noted the highrise measures are to be initially encouraged through an “educational and supportive approach.”
But those who don’t comply could face fines ranging from $750 to $100,000 and one year in prison, while corporations could be dinged as much as $10 million a day.
Weiss didn’t fall ill during the outbreak.
“But it was a scary time,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, so I was able to basically sequester myself in my apartment for those six weeks or so.”
Many others who work in health care or factories, for instance, didn’t have that luxury, Weiss said. “It’s a largely working-class building.”
On Sunday, public health offered another round of on-site vaccinations at Rebecca Towers, said Chowdhury, who works in a grocery store.
On short notice, about 30 people attended, fewer than previous showings, he noted.
The city wasn’t able to confirm Wednesday how many were vaccinated at 235 Rebecca St. or the other buildings.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator