An unfamiliar sight has appeared in the foyers and on the concierge desks of apartment blocks across Australia – hand sanitiser bottles.
And that’s a good thing, because, while there’s no escaping the fact that coronavirus is a threat to populations as a whole, in strata, there may be no escaping it at all.
With some larger blocks housing between 300 and over 1000 people, that’s a lot of people touching lift buttons, door handles and handrails, as well as sharing gym equipment and lifting garbage bin lids.
By the way, did you assume the picture above was a lift key being swabbed for testing? In fact it came from a website suggesting ways of avoiding contact with commonly used surfaces. You might want to consider that before pressing the “G” or “1” button that everyone in the block uses.
But how dangerous are commonly contacted surfaces? Well, it may be worse than you thought. According to the Journal of Hospital Infection, germs can live on hard surfaces like glass, plastic and metal for up to nine days.
The good news is that they can be killed by disinfectant wipes or sprays. The (possibly) bad news is that the standard cleaning wipes in your gym or common areas may not be powerful enough to properly disinfect them.
The article recommends sprays or wipes containing 62–71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite.
There are two main forms of transmission – breathing in infected droplets and transferring infections to your hands and then to your face.
As we outlined in our column about fist-bumping last week, you can get it from coughs and sneezes and you can catch it indirectly when an infected person touches you or a surface that you then touch, and you transfer the infection to your mouth, nose or eyes.
There’s even discussion about whether you can contract the virus just by talking to someone. One expert told the New York Times that if you can smell what someone had for lunch then you are breathing in particles from their body. The recommended safe standing distance ranges from one to two metres.
The NSW branch of the strata managers’ industry body Strata Community Australia (SCA) is concerned enough about potential risks to send out a cautionary email this week.
“This is a rapidly escalating issue and it may be appropriate at a time to consider deferring all face to face meetings,” the email from NSW President Chris Duggan says, outlining potential areas of concern, including delaying annual general meetings which, legally, should be held once every financial year.
Getting back to your apartment, how much of a medical minefield is it going from the relative safety of the street to the isolation of your home.
Generally, the advice is that unless you are in an area where coronavirus has been detected, behave normally but wash your hands more often and more thoroughly.
Otherwise, door handles are high-risk surfaces because of the number of people touching them and how long they hold on.
Lift buttons are probably less hazardous because of the smaller area of contact and the reduced number of people accessing your floor.
Handrails in lifts are tricky, especially for older people who are more likely to grab them for balance and are in the highest risk group. And what do you do if someone with the sniffles gets in?
But once you are in your front door, the smart thing to do would be to stay there until you have to leave, and get your food delivered. Personally, there a re a few people in my block that I’d be more than happy to avoid – otherwise, there’s always Skype. Seriously, though, I’m told that all the hard , touchable surfaces in the block are now being disinfected twice a day, which sounds about right.
No doubt, somone out there is already working in an antibacterial clingfilm to cover commonly touched surfaces. If yot, feel free to steal this idea. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, those of you who contort yourselves into pretzel shapes to open your door with your foot, call the lift with your elbow, and lift the bin lids with your knees, might do well to buy a pair of gloves.
Just resist the temptation to pull them off with your teeth.