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COVID-19: Should I Lock Down My Barn?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Posted by Rachel Kosmal McCart - Equine Legal Solutions
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COVID-19 PANDEMIC UPDATES

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At Equine Legal Solutions, is responding to many questions from barn owners asking if they should close their barns to boarders and visitors. Some want to close their barns to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but are worried that if they do, they will lose business, they will have to lay off employees, their customers will be very upset and some might even sue them.

Others want to keep their barns open to keep their business from going under, keep their employees working, and provide their understandably anxious boarders with access to their beloved horses as well as an outlet for healthy exercise, fresh air and a sense of normalcy.

But these barn owners are also concerned that if they don’t lock down their barns, their facilities will contribute to the pandemic. Federal, state and local government guidance has been inconsistent, and so far, there is no guidance specifically for equine facilities beyond scattered designations of “livestock” as “essential,” which is not particularly useful for the horse industry.

Here’s what medical experts currently know about the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19:
  • It “usually spreads from close person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing.”
  • It “may also spread through airborne transmission, when tiny droplets remain in the air even after the person with the virus leaves the area.” Viable coronavirus has been detected in the air up to three hours later.
  • People may acquire the virus…after touching contaminated objects.”[4] The novel coronavirus can live up to 72 hours on stainless steel and plastic, and up to 24 hours on cardboard.
  • COVID-19 “can spread before symptoms of the disease emerge, and symptoms can vary widely even in a close family cluster.”
  • “The explosion of COVID-19 cases in China was largely driven by individuals with mild, limited, or no symptoms who went undetected,” Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
  • There is no FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19. Doctors and other medical professionals treat COVID-19 patients by providing supportive care such as “supplementary oxygen and mechanical ventilatory support when indicated.”

What does this data mean in the context of a typical horse boarding and/or training facility?

  • Anyone at the facility could be carrying the virus and therefore contagious, whether or not they have symptoms. That means boarders, clients, stall cleaners, grooms, veterinarians, farriers, trainers and others.
  • Because the virus can stay viable in the air and on various surfaces, even strictly observed social distancing isn’t completely effective to prevent transmission of COVID-19. That means even if boarders and others stay at least six feet away from each other at all times, they can still contract and spread the novel coronavirus at the barn.

There are also practical limitations to implementing recommended safety protocols at equestrian facilities:

  • Social distancing by staying at least six feet away from other people isn’t realistic in a lot of barn situations, such as leading horses past each other in a typical 12-foot aisleway, or using a shared tack room.
  • Many surfaces at equestrian facilities are “high touch,” such as entry gate keypads, barn and tack room door handles, arena gates, and faucets used to water horses. At most equestrian facilities, it just isn’t practical to identify each one of these high touch surfaces and disinfect it after each person touches it.
  • Hand-washing facilities at some equestrian facilities are limited at best, particularly at facilities that do not have indoor restrooms.

In light of the above data and practical considerations, ELS’ attorney, Rachel Kosmal McCart, believes that equestrian facility owners should consider closing their facilities to all persons, including boarders and customers, who are not directly responsible for caring for the horses at the facility. And for self-care facilities and those persons who absolutely need to be on-site to feed, clean stalls and provide necessary veterinary and farrier care, the barn owner should implement strict biosecurity protocols based upon current medical recommendations. Making these tough decisions and taking decisive actions could literally be life-saving measures. We should all be fortunate enough to ride another day.

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