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Apartment living and COVID-19: What to do if you test positive?

There are no hard and fast rules about this at this point.

MINNEAPOLIS — Pierce County, Wisconsin health officials said they are monitoring a cluster of people in an apartment complex who have tested positive for coronavirus over the weekend. 

Pierce County director of Public Health, AZ Snyder said they noticed a pattern after three people tested positive.

"We noticed the addresses were really similar so three confirmed positives in three different households and a total of 14 people in this complex that are experiencing symptoms," Snyder said. 

Snyder clarified that the 11 people are a part of the three households with the patients who have tested positive. To address the 11 symptomatic people who haven't tested at all, the county asked for a favor.

"All 11 people have signed voluntary orders of isolation with the health department and they have all been cooperating," Snyder said. "They will stay in their apartments until they are no longer infectious."

That's one county's way of handling a handful of cases in an apartment complex.

Mike Vraa, the managing attorney for HomeLine, a tenant/renter legal help hotline said that in a lot of the calls he's been receiving regarding the Coronavirus, they're talking hypotheticals.

"You have to find answers that didn't exist before and find which ones are the most likely right answers," Vraa said. Because there isn't a precedent that lawyers can reflect on, he said he and the other attorneys are venturing into new territory with COVID-19 and renters issues.

For example, Vraa said right now there are no rules or laws that mandate a tenant who has tested positive for COVID-19 to tell anyone about their positive test result. 

"There's no obligation to tell your landlord that you've tested positive and there's no obligation for your landlord to disclose it to neighbors," he said. 

Vraa said there are also no specific rules for landlords either. However, he said he's mostly heard of team work among the patient, landlords and neighbors.

"They'll offer to do groceries, 'if you give me your mailbox key, i'll bring your mail up every day so you don't have to be in the communal mail area,'" Vraa said. He said people have also offered others to take their garbage out so the COVID-19 positive folks can stay inside their apartment as much as possible.

In times of uncertainty the motto of 'better safe than sorry,' seems to prevail. That's the approach Pierce County officials are taking so far in Wisconsin.

"What we're asking people to do is avoid public spaces like gyms or playgrounds or lobbies and if you can't avoid a public space it's important that people wear masks and hand wash every time they go in an out of their apartment at a minimum," Snyder said. 

Vraa said being honest with your landlord will also be helpful, moving forward if you do get COVID-19.

"I think just opening up lines of communication with the landlord are going to matter a lot in trying to figure out a way to minimize any potential contact with neighbors," he said. 

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