The coronavirus pandemic has put all of us on high alert, especially in public places. But for apartment and condo dwellers, there’s one particular public place that’s become a truly concentrated epicenter of fear and awkwardness: the elevator.
In a time when we all are limiting our exposure to public places, an elevator inside a residential building is used by people all day, every day. Buttons get pushed by bare hands, and it’s a small, enclosed space where airflow is not great.
So it begs the question: Should you step inside or just take the stairs? Right now, elevator etiquette matters more than ever.
“Wherever possible, people should choose the stairs over an elevator,” says Dr. Ilan Schwartz, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta. “If an elevator is necessary, everyone should be wearing a face covering.”
But stairs may not always be an option. What if you’re carrying groceries from the garage or you live on the 20th floor? Plus stairwells can also lead to close encounters with other residents on the way up or down.
So the bottom line is that it’s important to know the new rules—and be prepared—for riding on a lift. Here are some tips from the experts on elevator safety during COVID-19.
Be aware of air quality
Elevators are typically pretty cramped, and you could be walking into a contaminated space.
“You don’t know what happened on the elevator before you got on,” says Dr. Jeffrey Siegel, a professor at the department of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto and an expert on indoor air quality.
He says someone could have coughed or sneezed, or there could have been a car full of people talking, which means there’s a concentration of particles/droplets in the air. That could lead to COVID-19 infection.
“Individuals with symptoms like fever, cough, or sore throat should avoid taking the elevator if possible,” says Schwartz.
To be extra safe, people should also try to cut down on the number of trips in the elevator, Siegel says.
Do’s and don’ts for taking an elevator
In the age of COVID-19, apart from washing your hands for 20 seconds, there are some common-sense habits that should be adopted and put into practice.
“Wear a mask. It is very effective at stopping you from being the source,” says Siegel. “If everybody on the elevator before you wore a mask, your risk goes down. We should all be part of the solution.”
Schwartz says people should practice attentive hand hygiene before and after touching anything in an elevator.
“If a button must be pressed, the tip of the finger should be avoided because this is more likely to be used to touch one’s face,” says Schwartz. “Rather, the knuckle of a finger should be used, and then hand sanitizer should be applied afterward.”
Siegel says using your elbow to push the button is another option.
Maintain social distance in the elevator
To keep apartment communities safe and healthy during the pandemic, experts advise residents to follow the same sensibilities about how many people can enter an elevator, with a little bit more caution.
Basic rule of thumb: Don’t crowd the elevator.
“Ideally, you should not be able to touch anyone with your arms out, although this may not always be feasible,” says Schwartz.
Minimize trips to the store
Trips to the store can potentially expose you and people on the elevator to the coronavirus, so cutting down on the number of grocery store runs is a good idea.
“The three major risks in the grocery store are airborne particles, touching a product that has a droplet that contains the virus on it, and close contact to others. All of these become very small if we all wear a mask,” says Siegel.
He recommends not spending a lot of time in the store, keeping a distance from others, and washing your hands when you get home. If they’re available in your area, curbside pickup and grocery delivery are also good options to limit your exposure to others.
But if you must go to the store, he suggests using a credit card with a contactless tap option to pay for your groceries, rather than using cash or touching pin pads.
Trips like these will always have the potential to bring harmful germs into your building and elevator. But, ultimately, Siegel says, it’s most important to not panic.
“The time spent in the elevator, and therefore the risk, is likely small,” he says. “If you need to take an elevator, take it.”
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