Socially safe etiquette
during COVID-19 / 3

Tips to help when in the communal areas of your apartment, office buildings and parking lots

By Wanda Potrykus

Elevator Etiquette Rule #4: It’s OK to Say Hello

– Victor Fiorillo, Philadelphia Magazine

In March 2012 the Philadelphia Magazine published The Annotated Guide to Modern Elevator Etiquette. The article remains pertinent for the most part, although some of the wise-cracking humour may not be to everyone’s taste.

However, some of the tips Fiorillo provided do need to be updated for use in the era of social distancing. With this in mind (and without the helpful annotations and wry humour), here are some other suggestions for elevator and other communal space use in pandemic times.

Elevator-Communal Space Etiquette Tip #1: In larger elevators, stay 6 ft apart

In some large, very tall office buildings and apartment buildings, elevators may permit the recommended physical distancing requirements while riding in the cabin. The Middlesex-London Health Department flyer presumes this is possible and provides the following advice on a PDF that can be downloaded from their site.

  • Keep 6 feet apart from others, if possible
  • There should not be more than three people per elevator
  • Face in a different direction while in the elevator
  • Avoid direct contact with high-touch surfaces, such as elevator buttons and handrails
  • Wash or disinfect your hands before entering and after leaving the elevator

However, their advice pre-supposes all elevators are large ones, which isn’t quite correct as plenty of us live or work in smaller buildings where the elevators are much more compact.

In preparation for the partial re-opening of the economy, the management of some office buildings is beginning to put ‘stand here’ circles on the cabin floors and request people using the elevators stand facing the walls with their backs to the other occupants. It’s somewhat reminiscent of being told to “Go stand in the corner” by our primary school teacher after some indiscretion during our early school days and makes one feel a little vulnerable. I think I’d much rather mask-up in my efforts to keep the droplets off me and maybe try and hold my breath for most of my time in the elevator. But that’s me – I’m good at holding my breath.

climbing stairs -

Image: PxHere – Public domain

Elevator-Communal Space Etiquette Tip #2: In smaller elevators, ride solo or take the stairs

Many elevators, especially those in smaller residential buildings, don’t allow for 6 ft / 2 m distancing, so my advice is: ride solo (if you can) or take the stairs. Before you gasp, “but I live on the 20th floor!” I have a friend who used to work for Air Canada when they were housed downtown in the 47-storey 1, Place Ville Marie office tower (yes, that’s some 35 or 40 years ago) and he used to walk up and down to/from his office on one of the top floors every day. He always claimed it was a better workout than the gym.


I also have a cousin who, in 1989, earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for running up the CN Tower in Toronto in 7 minutes, 52 seconds (that’s 1776 steps), and has repeated that feat several times since. It is a record that still stands apparently despite the WWF-Canada Elite Climb Challenge, part of the annual CN Tower Climb For Nature community fundraiser which invites speedy athletes to compete in Toronto’s tallest challenge to become the fastest to scale the tower. Now in his late 70s, my cousin has replaced stair running with cycling and goes out everyday rain or shine for a 30 km ride. Yes, he’s still a lot fitter than I am.

For those who want to research a little further into the efficacy of stair workouts here is an informative article on the benefits of stair climbing.

However, it should be noted that although stairs climbing is a great cardio exercise, it predominantly exercises the lower body, but that said, even if you only choose to walk downstairs and not up, that can also help maintain and improve balance, always an important consideration as we age.

Nevertheless, it may not be a suitable activity for everyone, so take heed of these disadvantages and note there may be others:

  • Stair climbing mostly works your heart and leg muscles, but it doesn’t address other muscle groups in your body.
  • For people with problems in the bones or soft tissues of their knees, climbing stairs might aggravate these issues.
  • If you are significantly overweight or have knee problems, running and climbing stairs should be done in moderation.
  • And it goes without saying if you have other medical conditions check with your doctor on the advisability of adding this to your exercise routine.


Personally, with the local swimming pools closed, I have added walking, at least 4-5 times a week, both down and back up the 10 flights of stairs (two flights per floor) to my 5th-floor apartment, mostly as I leave and come back after my pandemic-inaugurated walk routine. Initially, I struggled a bit on the way back up, and I admit to stopping briefly and resting, but it’s getting much easier as the weeks pass. However, my 80+-year-old neighbour, who lives one floor below me on the 4th floor, literally bounds up and down them every day (sometimes more than once a day). She’s quite amazing, so my goal (perhaps wishful thinking) is to be as fit as she is, that is if I even manage to survive to her age.

Elevator-Communal Space Etiquette Tip #3: Use the hand sanitizer, if available

If you do opt to use the elevator, don’t take a chance. I wear gloves and also use a clean tissue to press the buttons, which I keep in a baggie until I can discard it in a secure receptacle, on the days I don’t take the stairs. Other hacks out there include using a toothpick or pen instead of your fingers.

I also avail myself of the hand sanitizer since our building has most helpfully installed dispensers at the locked door into the building from the garage and in the lobby where folks accessing the building from the street enter. Our superintendent sanitizes the door handles, rails and banisters every day, as well as the elevator buttons, which is also greatly appreciated by the residents but does add to his daily workload. Thanks, Pierre!

Elevator-Communal Space Etiquette Tip #4: Wear a mask

During this pandemic, I am firmly in the Mask Up and Live or Mask Up, Save Lives way of thinking camp, even though both those campaigns are primarily directed at Chicago’s black community since black persons in the US are proving to be more heavily impacted by this disease. That being said, as of May 1, the Illinois governor, through a gubernatorial executive order, has made wearing a mask or face covering mandatory for all in Illinois.

In solidarity with that way of thinking I have adopted a face mask as my standard fashion-health ‘n safety statement, primarily since I’m in the high-risk category and so seek to reduce my exposure as much as is possible, along with not wishing to pass COVID-19 to others in the event I do get sick.

I know it’s still a debatable point with many, but my docs on their recent phone calls to check up on my health, have all underlined the need for me to wear a mask while outside and also inside in the common areas of my apartment building. So I chose to mask up early and wear my mask and gloves to and from the shared laundry facilities, and the garbage and recycling bins as well.


In addition, I also believe wearing a mask sends a non-verbal message to those approaching me that they need to social distance themselves from me. At least I hope that is the message it sends, but in practice that has not always proved true. There are still far too many people out and about on the streets of my neighbourhood who don’t seem to have any idea of what 6 ft / 6 ft 7 in, or 2 m means, or who simply choose to ignore the suggested distancing guidelines leaving it up to me to step away from them rather than us both move away.

This seemingly ‘unaware’ group includes runners, both without and with their dogs, with the leash stretched out across the entire sidewalk and who shove through anyone in their way, whether couples or singletons, but also many youth and families with children and of course, those on their phones. They’re in a world of their own. But I do continue to muse as to why so many people continue to have such a blind spot as to the 2 m distancing requirement.

Thus I choose to detour around all of them, even if it means stepping onto the street, or onto someone else’s lawn, path or driveway. I just hope the drivers and the private property owners are more tolerant and considerate of walkers attempting to follow the physical distancing guidelines than some of the sidewalk users.

‘We hold on to memories through the clothing we wear… The collective trauma of COVID will be ingrained, and I think a lot of us are going to keep wearing our masks when this is over…’

– Gabriela Herstik

improvised masks -

Image: cottonbro from Pexels


With the approaching easing of the pandemic stay-at-home orders for some, I still firmly believe the face mask should become a regular part of life here, as it seems to be in many Asian countries, at least until we can determine that the spread of COVID-19 has become a (bad) memory for us all. But just when that might be is anyone’s guess.

Fashion writer, Gabriela Herstik, thinks mask-wearing is possibly here to stay for a while at least: “We hold on to memories through the clothing we wear… The collective trauma of COVID will be ingrained, and I think a lot of us are going to keep wearing our masks when this is over…”

For those wanting further information, there is a range of articles out there, from both scientific and popular sources, listing both the pros and cons of mask-wearing (home-made or otherwise) and that provide more than enough details for you to make up your mind for yourself. And men, take note, wearing a mask does not emasculate you! It’s socially responsible as well as kind and considerate.

Perhaps ‘kind and considerate’ can become the new universal mantra for pandemic and post-pandemic times.

Watch for the Second Part of Tips to help when in the communal areas of your apartment, office buildings and parking lots – coming soon.

Feature image: Anastasiia Chepinska – UnsplashBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Other articles by Wanda Potrykus


Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator and poet. A graduate of McGill, she has spent most of her career in marketing communications, PR, event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, education and the marketing of the arts.

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