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Apartment Communities & Covid-19: A Q&A with an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist

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With so much information swirling about Covid-19, you may feel uncertain about how you can best protect your residents and staff. We are here to help. To get the facts, we went straight to a health expert – an infectious disease epidemiologist, to be exact. Meet Dr. Shira Shafir, a professor in the Departments of Community Health Sciences and Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, as well as the Director of the MPH for Health Professionals program, in this Q&A.

Rent Ready (RR): What is the best approach for apartment communities to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19?

Dr. Shira Shafir (SS): 360° Surface Spraying (technical term: electrostatic spraying) is the gold standard for disinfection. This is the technology that is being used in hospitals on a regular basis to ensure that our hospitals are as safe as possible. What a phenomenal opportunity to give residents the confidence that their home has the same standards for disinfection as a hospital.

RR: How does 360° Surface Spraying reduce the likelihood of spreading Covid-19 in apartment communities? Why is it important?

SS: We know there is risk of transmission from touching common, shared surfaces and we know the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on shiny, hard surfaces like plastic or metal. In an apartment community -- because you have so many people living in close proximity and sharing so many common areas -- it is really important to use the best available resources and technology in order to protect the health and safety of the residents.

360° Surface Spraying is the best available technology for disinfection -- because it kills the germs -- to make sure that the residents living there are safe. When you come in and wipe things down (which everyone should still be doing), you are not necessarily going to be able to get to every surface. Then if someone touches a surface that was not disinfected, there is now a risk of transmission of the virus. When you utilize 360° Surface Spraying, you’re taking advantage of technology to ensure every possible surface in a common area has been disinfected.

RR: Would you be concerned if an apartment complex were not utilizing this method of disinfection? If so, why?

SS: I would definitely be concerned if an apartment community was not using 360° Surface Spraying either for turns or common areas because the level of manual disinfection that would be required in order for people to feel confident that these spaces are safe, is really very, very high.

RR: What if an apartment community has onsite staff disinfecting via a spray bottle but does not opt for 360° Surface Spraying?

SS: I look at it in terms of floors and ceilings. So, using EPA-approved disinfectants and those that have been approved by the CDC’s guidelines, that is absolutely necessary, but that is the floor. If a community really wants to look after the health and safety of its residents, so that people feel safe and comfortable living there, then they have to think about the ceiling, and that’s by utilizing technology like 360° Surface Spraying to ensure that there is no chance that there is virus lingering on surfaces.

RR: Do common areas in apartment communities pose a risk to Covid-19? If so, what level/type of risk?

SS: There is definitely a risk if someone comes into a common area and they cough or sneeze and deposit virus on one of those areas and another resident comes in, touches that same surface and gets infected. So, it becomes very important to ensure that these common areas are as clean as possible. One very powerful way to help ensure that is the use of 360° Surface Sprayers.

RR: How can apartments ensure that a recently turned unit is free of Covid-19?

SS: Using 360° Surface Spraying as the final step before an apartment is turned over to a new resident helps to ensure that is has been completely disinfected, that there is no chance there is going to be a virus there. The new resident can move in with a sense of confidence knowing that the community has really looked out for their safety.

RR: Is there a difference between a professional conducting 360° Surface Spraying and someone on staff who has not used this type of spraying equipment previously? If so, what is it?

SS: If the spraying is being done by someone who is inexperienced who does not know how to use the chemicals or the sprayer, it’s possible that the process isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. So, residents might take risks believing they are safe because spraying has been done, when in fact the spraying has not been done effectively.

A professional who is experienced can understand features like safety of the chemical, droplet size, spray pattern, spray outputs, charge mechanism and chemical equivalency. This [360° Surface Spraying] is not something that people are advised to do themselves. It does require in-depth knowledge of both the equipment that will be used to spray and the chemical that is going to be sprayed in order to make sure that the person spraying and residents are all being kept safe.

RR: What if you were moving into an apartment community? As an infectious disease epidemiologist and a resident, what would you want your community to do to help protect you from Covid-19?

SS: If I was getting ready to move into an apartment, not only would I want to know that they repainted the walls and cleaned the bathtub, but that I was able to feel safe and protected in my new home as well. Knowing that the home I move into has had [360° Surface] spraying to ensure that there is no virus there would make me feel so much more comfortable in my new home.

 

Written by Dr. Shira Shafir

Dr. Shira Shafir is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Community Health Sciences and Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She is also the Director of the Master of Public Health for Health Professionals in the Department of Community Health Sciences at UCLA. An epidemiologist with expertise in neglected tropical diseases and infectious diseases of poverty, she holds an MPH in infectious diseases from UC Berkeley and a PhD in Epidemiology and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Global Health from Community Health Sciences at UCLA. She has developed and taught courses in "Responsible Conduct in Under-Resourced Settings," "Foodborne Disease Epidemiology," "Infectious Disease Epidemiology," "Global Health and Tropical Medicine," "Introduction to Epidemiology," "Principles of Control of Infectious Diseases," and "Contemporary Issues in Public Health." Dr. Shafir is currently helping to lead the UCLA initiative, in partnership with UCSF and the California Department of Public Health to train COVID-19 contact tracers and case investigators. She has been giving CME talks on the epidemiology of COVID-19 at hospitals across California since early February and currently does a weekly COVID-19 CME podcast for Monterey County.

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