Before the COVID-19 pandemic, several unwritten rules applied when riding an elevator in a commercial building. It was polite to hold the doors if you saw someone running toward the elevator. The direction to face was toward the elevator doors, not the walls of the cab. Even in the limited space available in most elevator cabs, people tried to put as much distance between themselves and other riders as possible.
When the pandemic started, people’s approach to riding elevators changed in order to avoid close contact that could transmit the virus. While some people are hesitant to ride in elevators, in tall buildings, taking the stairs isn’t always an option — especially when traveling to the 20th or 30th floor. Limited mobility might also make it challenging for people to take the stairs. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself on elevators during and after the pandemic.
Do Elevators Increase COVID-19 Risk?
At the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, scientists weren’t sure how COVID-19 spread. They knew the virus traveled from person to person, but they weren’t sure if the exposure occurred after touching a surface that had the virus on it or if the virus mainly traveled through the air. Time and research allowed scientists to discover that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, typically spreads when people are in close contact with each other, usually less than about three feet apart.
The virus can travel in droplets or aerosols from an infected person’s nose or mouth. People produce droplets when they speak, cough, sneeze or exhale. When people are crowded together, such as in a busy elevator, the droplets can easily reach another person’s nose or mouth.
Riding an elevator with a person who is infected with the coronavirus can increase your risk of getting infected. But the risk of being in an elevator with an infected person is no greater than the risk of being near someone who has the virus in another setting, such as in a meeting at work or in a car. Another thing to consider is that the time people spend in elevators is usually short and takes about a minute. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure typically occurs when someone is within 6 feet of another person with COVID-19 for 15 minutes.
Using Elevators Safely During the Coronavirus Pandemic
For people who need to continue to use elevators during the COVID-19 pandemic, several safety measures exist. The measures you can take are very similar to what you are likely already doing in other situations when you need to be close to other people:
- Wear a mask: A tightly fitting mask covering the mouth and nose is important to wear in a public elevator during the pandemic. Many buildings require people to wear masks at all times, meaning you might not be allowed to enter a building with your face uncovered.
- Don’t talk: The virus spreads when people talk, laugh, sing or otherwise exhale. When riding with others, keep talking to a minimum, such as only saying the floor you want.
- Sanitize your hands before and after: Wash or sanitize your hands before you get on the elevator and after you exit, especially if you touched the buttons on the wall. If you touch a surface that has the virus on it and touch your nose, mouth or eyes, there is a chance you could become infected.
- Limit contact with surfaces: When on the elevator, try not to touch anything, such as the handrails, walls or buttons. If you need to call the elevator or press your floor number, use your knuckle instead of a fingertip. Another option is to use a toothpick or cover your hand with a tissue before pressing a button.
- Face away from other riders: Facing toward the front of the elevator was good etiquette before the pandemic, and it continues to be good etiquette during it. Directing your face away from your fellow passengers can reduce the virus’s transmission through exhalation or coughing.
Social Distancing in Elevators
Many buildings have set limits on the number of people who can ride in elevators at once during the pandemic. Often, the limit is four passengers, one person in each corner. Some commercial elevators have floor markers in each corner to make it easy to see where to stand to maintain the greatest distance between yourself and other passengers.
If you’re not comfortable with the idea of riding with other people in the elevator, one option is to wait to take the next cab. If the building isn’t busy, you might be able to get a solo ride. You can also explain to others that you aren’t comfortable riding with them. They might feel the same way and allow you to ride alone.
Elevators and Public Health After the Pandemic Ends
The pandemic has introduced how to make elevators even safer from a public health perspective after the pandemic ends. If practical, buildings might maintain the elevator occupancy limits they put in place due to social distancing measures.
New technology can also help create a touch-free elevator experience. Some options include having the elevator automatically stop at every floor, even if it’s not called. Many commercial elevators can already do this in what’s known as “Sabbath mode.” Instead of having Sabbath mode operate only on Saturdays, building managers might program the elevators to make it an everyday setting.
Other touch-free options include the use of apps that allow a person to call the elevator from their smartphone or tablet. Voice-activated controls are another option that can limit people’s contact with surfaces in the elevator. Small talk in elevators might be a thing of the past once the pandemic is over, as the cabs are often poorly ventilated and droplets or aerosols can linger in the air.
Residential Elevators Allow for Safe Transport in Your Home
While you might be justifiably hesitant to ride in a public elevator with people you don’t know during and after the pandemic, you can feel safe and comfortable riding in an elevator in your home. You know exactly who’s been in the elevator in your home and how frequently it’s cleaned. A home elevator can make it easy for you to move between floors and move heavy objects from one level to the next without multiple trips. To learn more about your residential elevator options and see how they could fit into your home, contact an Inclinator dealer near you today.