Q: Last week, I received a notice from the managing agent of my Upper Manhattan co-op that a resident had tested positive for coronavirus. The management company would not disclose where in the building the resident lives, or if the person used any building amenities before testing positive. Then, today, we received an updated notice: Going forward, the managing agent will no longer inform us of reported cases in the building. Can they really keep this information from us?
A: At this point, with well over 40,000 cases of coronavirus in New York City, you should operate on the assumption that the virus is in your building, including on surfaces you encounter as you go about your day, which is why you should reduce your contact with your neighbors as much as possible.
Some property owners and managers are informing tenants when they learn that someone in a building has tested positive for coronavirus. Doing so can keep the flow of information moving. Residents “should be informed of a known risk, whether the infected person is a staff person or a resident,” said Phyllis Weisberg, a real estate lawyer and a partner in the Manhattan office of the law firm Armstrong Teasdale, who is advising the co-ops and condo boards she represents to disclose information about known cases.
But your building isn’t obligated to do this. Federal medical privacy rules prohibit management from sharing more than the bare minimum. And while the city doesn’t prohibit management from sharing basic details, it doesn’t require buildings to share information, either. The city is not informing individual buildings when a resident tests positive. In the face of widespread community transmission, Health Department guidelines broadly state that “many people will get sick and recover at home. All New Yorkers should follow health guidance, take care of themselves and assist and support their neighbors to help limit the spread of the virus.”
The privacy rules do have a benefit for those who aren’t yet sick: If an infected resident knows that her condition will be kept confidential, she may be more willing to disclose it to the super and ask for assistance so she doesn’t have to leave her apartment and risk spreading the virus. Midboro Management, which manages 140 residential properties in the city, is urging residents to confidentially disclose their diagnosis so that staff can make arrangements, like setting times to collect their trash outside the door and decontaminating the floor.
With owners and managers under enormous stress dealing with a growing health crisis, more of them may need to triage their response, including taking steps to prioritize sanitation over general communication.
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