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Naming COVID-19 Victims Is Asking for a Lawsuit

Bill Morris in Building Operations on April 21, 2020

Upper West Side, Manhattan

COVID-19, house rules, privacy rights, legal liability, condo and co-op boards.

"Now there is nobody on the elevator."

April 21, 2020

When a nearby co-op reported that a resident had tested positive for COVID-19, Carole Buncher posted a message on her neighborhood mailing list: “Management is not releasing the name nor location (i.e., floor) of this resident. They are citing privacy and guidance from their attorneys as the reasons for withholding this information. I question whether privacy, which may have applied during, for instance, HIV testing, is an appropriate reason to withhold this information.”

Buncher was expecting a flood of support. After all, information on who was sick could benefit all shareholders by prompting others to get tested or go into quarantine. Instead, she got a surprise – “a small firestorm,” she tells the Washington Post.

“Naming names is a hideous suggestion,” one person responded. “Stop the ‘us versus them,’ ” wrote another. “For all you know you’re going to be the ‘them’ tomorrow morning.” Lawyers soon chimed in on the email thread to warn that disclosing the name or apartment number of a COVID-19 patient could put landlords, co-op boards or condo associations at legal risk.

At a 300-unit condo on the Upper West Side, residents who thought they or someone else in their household might be infected were instructed to double-bag their trash and leave it outside their doors to be picked up by porters. If someone sick or in quarantine had to leave the building, they were told to notify the front desk so staff could clear an elevator and the lobby. Only three people were allowed in an elevator at a time, unless they were all from the same household.

At first the new rules were awkward, says Tony D’Souza, a software engineer who lives in the building with his wife and their two young children. “There was a time when you’d get into the elevator, and there would be two of them and two of us,” he says. “We’d look at each other and think, well, it is just one floor.”

Those times are gone for a couple of reasons. One, no sane person risks riding in a crowded elevator, even for just one floor. And two, most of D’Souza’s well-heeled fellow unit-owners have fled the city.

“Now,” he says, “there is nobody in the elevator.”

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