Monday, March 30, 2020By Rebecca Melnyk
Businesses that provide support and maintenance to buildings figure into the Ontario government’s list of essential services as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.
Condo managers and concierges are among those on the list. They stand on the front lines for a number of services, including the management of essential online parcel delivery—an already challenging issue, which has become more exasperating during the past month.
Not only does the increase in packages, and restaurant take-out for that matter, place more demand on condo corporations without adequate space, it also raises the issue of health and safety of staff coming into regular contact with residents as well as the packages often handled by multiple third parties.
Package deliveries have increased. Besides the recent news that Amazon will be hiring 1000 warehouse and delivery workers to handle the demand in Canada (and more than 100,000 workers in the U.S.), Patrick Armstrong, CEO of automated delivery company Snaile, says its Canadian carrier partners report parcel volumes were up as high as 30 per cent the week before last. He expects that people practicing social distancing in their homes will be forced to purchase more online, including people who have never adopted e-commerce shopping. These online habits, he figures, will continue on “during post-corona existence.”
As for the packaging itself, the facts are still being processed regarding how long coronavirus can live on packaging materials like cardboard. Dr. Syed Sattar, professor emeritus of microbiology in the faculty of medicine at the University of Ottawa, is one of Canada’s primary experts in environmental and medical microbiology as it pertains to public health. Based on many years of research he says, generally speaking, disease-causing bacteria and viruses do not stay alive on porous materials like cardboard and craft paper as long as they do on non-porous surfaces, such as plastics, metal and glass.
He says even if the viruses survive on porous materials, they transfer less efficiently to hands. As it would be virtually impossible to avoid packaging and handling for parcels, the best protection is washing hands soon after opening them.
“As far as we know, the main means of the coronavirus spread is through droplets,” he notes. Social distancing is key.
Some building staff are still delivering packages to units, but many condos have limited delivery resources. Other condos have already implemented methods to not only protect the health and safety of their workers, but to also reduce the volume of packaging in the lobby.
Bogdan Alexe, president and CEO of B1 Management Group Inc, says managers in the buildings he oversees are now sending notices to residents requesting them to pick up their packages the minute they are notified.
Not only is there a higher volume of packages right now, he says, condos built in the last ten years were not designed with parcel storage and delivery in mind.
“This is a problem that was here before the COVID-19 pandemic, starting about a couple of years ago, he adds. “The volume had increased. So, right now, we have two concerns, the spread of the virus for people on the front lines handling these packages and the storage space.”
How to best handle deliveries was a topic addressed during a recent Condo Adviser webinar. Sandy Foulds, executive director of condominium management at Wilson Blanchard Management, said buildings should start to create policies related to deliveries. Many delivery companies are no longer dropping parcels off beyond the condo entrance, while those who work in security and concierge services should remain in the lobby unless a condo has multiple staff members to help.
She notes that only essential deliveries like food and healthcare products should be permitted in buildings right now and regular parcel delivery should be discouraged. The City of Toronto also recently posted a guideline that buildings should be organized to only accept deliveries of essential goods. Healthy residents who aren’t self-isolating or confirmed to have COVID-19 can come down to the lobby and pick up these packages. Another idea is to launch a “neighbour program” where a group of healthy residents deliver mail and other items directly outside a unit owner’s door.
“Boards need to clearly and repeatedly communicate these policies to the residents in an email or notices—owners need to be reminded,” she says.
Graeme MacPherson, associate lawyer at Gowling WLG and another webinar participant, believes the best policy is to probably have meals and deliveries brought to units to prevent vulnerable owners from gathering in the lobby and using these common elements too much. Many buildings have limited staff to oversee this process. He says it’s best if corporations allow owners to organize any volunteer groups.
“If a corporation wants to get involved and play a role in this, it may be worth looking into having waivers in place,” he says. “If the corporation is going to take on a leadership role, it wants to make sure it is adequately protected.”