Should we report residents’ illnesses to other residents?
There are no statutes that require community associations to report residents’ illnesses to other residents. On the other hand, associations may not simply ignore the public health risk created by residents who have a communicable disease such as COVID-19. Although HIPPA laws regarding patient privacy do not apply to community associations, associations are obligated to respect the privacy of their residents and so must balance the need to warn residents against individual privacy.
Residents’ identities should not be disclosed without their consent
Guidance for community associations is available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines for multiple housing. HUD advises that housing providers may give notification of positive COVID-19 cases to other residents without giving the name, address or other personal identification of the ill person. Mere possible exposure to a person who may have contacted an ill person does not any warrant notification. If an association becomes aware of a particular resident who is ill, residents may be warned that a case of the illness has been reported and advised to undertake protective measures for themselves:
- If you don’t need to go out, don’t; and if you do go out, stay at least 6 feet from others.
If you are sick, stay home from work or school.
- Avoid close contact with those who are already sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or the crook of your arm.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth.
The association also should discourage residents from spreading rumors or guesswork on social media about who is ill or where the disease has spread. If management or the board is informed by a resident that a resident or vendor has contracted the disease, the association may determine from the resident or vendor if he or she will be quarantining in the residence or elsewhere and may encourage the resident or vendor to self-report to the local health department. In addition, the resident or vendor may be asked if he or she authorizes disclosure of the illness and his/her identity to the community, so that people who have had contact with the resident or vendor may take appropriate protective measures. Any such authorization must be in writing.
If the resident or vendor does not want personal disclosure, identifying information should not be disclosed. These same guidelines apply if the association becomes aware that a staff member or a vendor who services residents or has contact with them, rather than a resident, is ill with the virus. Also, whatever information the association provides should be limited to owners and residents of the development and any known vendors, contractors, staff members and guests who have had contact with the ill person.