It is that time of year when snowbirds start migrating back to Florida. However, this year is far from typical, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. As of mid-August, there have been more than 500,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida and almost 10,000 deaths. The recent uptick in cases in Florida’s tri-county area (Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties) have some snowbirds questioning when and if they will return to Florida this year.The peak of hurricane season for Florida is mid-August until mid-October. With near misses in South Florida in three of the last four years—Matthew (2016), Irma (2017), and Dorian (2019)—many who might have otherwise returned in September are considering waiting until November or later to avoid the risk of having to evacuate under a hurricane warning during this pandemic. For those who do not remember Irma, imagine how much more complicated the following issues would be with COVID-19: cramped shelters, lack of available hotel rooms, traffic congestion, and gas shortages leaving Florida.
The snowbirds who will be returning should be prepared for a lot of changes at their associations. Most clubhouses are still closed to residents, and association amenities are extremely limited. Some communities have not been able to open their gyms or pools to residents. Those that have opened their gyms and pools have limited hours for use to accommodate additional cleaning, and many are using reservation systems to avoid overcrowding. Do not be surprised to find out that your community gym is conducting temperature checks and that all the outdoor furniture has been removed from your pool deck.
Many community tennis courts are open but are limiting the number of residents allowed on a court at a certain time. Chairs and seating at the courts have also been removed at many associations. Basketball courts and pickleball courts at some communities are still closed. Those communities that have opened their tennis courts, basketball courts, gyms, and pools are typically operating at 50 percent capacity. Most associations have restricted the use of amenities to residents only. And, some are not allowing non-family guests on property.
Community playgrounds at all associations are also still closed. If you want to have a talk with your property manager, do not be surprised if you cannot get into the office—most community offices are closed to visitors. You will likely need to rely on a phone call or email instead.
The communities that have opened their clubhouses and amenities or those with common elements such as elevators, lobbies, and shared hallways have stepped up their cleaning protocols. Many associations have hired additional cleaning staff or have increased the number of cleanings done.
In Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties, masks are required in any public building and outside where social distancing is not possible. Snowbirds who are returning to Florida should be prepared to wear a mask or facial covering that covers their entire mouth and nose when inside the common elements such as the lobby, hallways, clubhouse, gym, and recreation centers.
Elevator use has changed as well. Many communities are recommending one party per ride in the elevator to prevent commingling. Your stairs might become a better option and make up for the exercise you are missing because your gym is closed.
Social events look quite different, also. Many have gone virtual. Communities that have tried to keep resident engagement up have created online activities, arranged scavenger hunts, and even held community drive-by parades. Some communities have invited food trucks, ice cream trucks, and food delivery services into the communities.
Things are constantly changing and evolving during this unprecedented time. Campbell Property Management has created a COVID-19 resource center with detailed and up-to-date information on the operation of Florida community associations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 resource center includes the following:
- Links to all federal, state, and county specific emergency orders.
- COVID-19 blog posts and webinars that explain these new restrictions and rules.
- Sample posters, notices, and guides, including a standard coronavirus prevention poster and a coronavirus elevator safety poster.
The COVID-19 resource center can be accessed here. These are trying times that require understanding and flexibility on the part of residents, board members, and community association employees. Snowbirds who are planning to return to Florida this year need to be prepared for a different experience than in past years. Not all the amenities may be accessible this time around, and those that are open may be operated differently. With patience and an understanding attitude, hopefully, we can get through these difficult times together as a community.
This article was first published in the Florida Community Association Journal's October 2020 issue.