In conversation with Alka Mishra, Honorary Secretary of Oberoi Springs, Mumbai, instructed to be sealed after an 11 year old occupant tested positive for COVID-19
In a world ruled by the novel coronavirus, the worst nightmare of an apartment complex or housing society is to have an inhabitant testing positive of COVID-19 and the local administration declares the community sealed.
What Is A Sealed Community?
A sealed community implies it is a containment zone. It further means that no one is allowed in or out. A community is sealed if a resident tests positive. While the patient is immediately admitted to the hospital, the rest of the community is instantly cordoned off to ensure the virus does not spread further. It becomes the onus of the Management Committee to ensure remaining residents are safe, healthy and their essential needs are taken care of without compromising the sealing.
The Backstory of Oberoi Springs’ War On COVID-19
Oberoi Springs had plans in place even before the community was declared sealed. They had started preparing since March 18, 2020. The gym, swimming pool, walking track at the lobby level were immediately shut down and resident usage strictly prohibited. There were already strict bans on outsiders walking into the community premises. Prior to the Janata Curfew of March 22, 2020, the community had made sanitisation a mandatory practice in housekeeping duties. Housekeeping staff were instructed to sanitise elevators, door knobs, door handles every one hour.
The community houses 3000 odd residents. They are well equipped with an STP Pump, RO Pump and have a constant need of plumbers, electricians and security guards. Keeping this in mind 55 staff from different segments – security, plumbing, electricity, housekeeping – were identified to serve as in house staff. “Prior to March 22, we made arrangements to collect mattresses, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, clothes and fix a caterer to take care of the staff’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. The caterer is a local vendor, who has taken special permission to help us with the food needs of our staff”, says Ms. Alka Mishra. No staff was allowed out post March 22. The staff are housed in changing rooms. Oberoi Springs had them made for the comfort of their staff long before coronavirus had become a household word.
Additionally, masks, thermometers and requisite amounts of sanitisers were procured to follow all precautions to keep the community safe. Residents who had travelled abroad were asked to strictly follow the 14 day quarantine rule after reaching home. They had successfully managed to quarantine 21 units with foreign travellers in them.
On April 12, 2020, the young resident was declared positive of COVID-19 and within a few hours, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation declared Oberoi Springs sealed. The apartment complex has three towers housing 645 units. The residing tower of the patient was immediately cordoned off and barricaded. Strict instructions were given to 215 units of the building to not step out of their tower gate. The units on the floor of the patient received further instructions to not step out of their respective flats. The elevator the patient had used was immediately sealed and sanitised. Housekeeping staff was instantly alerted to wear body suits during sanitisation. In the meantime, BMC officials arrived and taught the staff on the correct methods to sanitise, with the correct sanitisation solution. Soon after each of the 35 floors of all 3 towers were sanitised.
How Oberoi Springs Managed As A Sealed Community
Alka Mishra rightly says,”Taking care of a sealed community has taught me patience and taught our 16 member Management Committee to work as a unit.”
The community was quick to collect a group of enthusiastic volunteers to help with the logistics of managing a sealed community. The resident volunteer group had 10-12 volunteer leaders apart from the Management Committee members. Oberoi Springs tied up with Ninjacart for their dairy supplies (milk, paneer, curd) and with Big Bazaar for their grocery needs. Fruits and vegetables are supplied by a local wholesaler, while local vendors provide medicines and pet food to the community.
Ninjacart delivers their dairy needs in a sanitised van. While the residents of the other two towers receive their orders from the Main Gate, maintaining a queue in accordance with norms of social distancing, the cordoned tower has their orders left at the tower gate to be received by the residents. Orders are listed by residents in their designated official communication channel. Different towers are allocated different days of the week to collect their supplies between 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. No payment is made to the vendors by individual residents. The Management Committee maintains a record and adds the expenses to the maintenance due of the residents.
Oberoi Springs put a guideline in place to assist residents needing medical assistance. The car travelling with the patient is sanitised during exit and entry. The travellers get their temperature immediately checked and hands are sanitised twice – while leaving and entering.
In case a patient shows flu-like symptoms, they are instructed to immediately inform the Property Manager. In association with the designated doctor of BMC, proper protocol of testing is followed.The elevator used by the patient on their way to the hospital is instantly sealed and the same procedure of sanitation is followed. The floor of such patients is also cordoned off till test results are declared. And of course, rigorous sanitation is implemented swiftly. In such cases, the Management Committee follows up every 3-4 hours to be constantly updated about the status of the patients to understand how to proceed with sanitisation rules and other logistics.
Repair & Maintenance
Repair and maintenance work is limited and only emergencies attended to. These are done by the inhouse staff who are instructed to wear masks and gloves whenever visiting an individual unit. For the cordoned tower, all repair and maintenance work has been cancelled unless they are high priority. In such cases, the staff wear body suits to accomplish the job.
Tough times give wonderful memories. Oberoi Springs has made some beautiful memories in the process. “Our community has become like Tarak Mehta’s Gokuldham Society. We have become closer to each other and more self dependent as a community”, Ms. Mishra remarks fondly.
The community loves its senior citizens and takes special care of them. The compassion extended during this difficult phase when a group of 3-4 volunteers offered to arrange breakfast, lunch and dinner for a senior citizen family whose cook was barred from entering the community. In another incident, a Management Committee member patiently taught an 80 year old lady the workings of WhatsApp to ease her communication. Senior citizens who are unable to collect their essential supplies, are attended to by the duty staff.
To keep the morale up, the residents gathered in their balconies to applaud their Management Committee for the tremendous job they did to manage the community through the crisis. This was the cherry on top after the community came together to applaud the medics and light a candle/diya in their honour.
Oberoi Springs learnt cooperation among neighbours anew. Ms. Mishra talks about how a resident offered their spare refrigerator to a neighbour whose refrigerator had broken down, and how another resident arranged for an air cooler for a family whose air conditioner had stopped functioning.
But perhaps, the best of the memories was the treatment of the in house staff. Residents came together to donate fruits, homemade snacks like poha and bread pakoda to the staff. The Oberoi Springs Relief Fund and the Sundowner held on April 4, 2020 saw generous donations coming in for the benefit of their families.
The Way Forward For Oberoi Springs
On April 25, 2020, Oberoi Springs conducted a distribution drive of masks and sanitisers to all residents, keeping in mind that this will become absolutely necessary once the sealing is lifted off the community. As on April 18, 2020 the young patient has returned home healthy and tested negative of COVID-19. The sealing was lifted on May 2, 2020. The community decided to not allow more than three individuals in an elevator long before government protocols were issued and to maintain physical distancing.
Oberoi Springs has shown itself to be a forward thinking community. They organise regular feeding and sterilisation drives of stray dogs in the locality. This spirit of empathy has been their major driving force to tide over this crisis. Besides all the necessary arrangements, the residents have also lended psychological support to each other. Calming anxious neighbours, giving each other a safe space to talk about their apprehensions, constantly motivating the inhouse staff – they have holistically implemented what it means to be a truly connected community.