Construction is ‘essential,’ but what about screening workers for COVID-19?


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amelia Nicot’s job was to test construction workers at job sites for high temperatures. But, there was nothing to protect her from a cough or sneeze when they opened their mouths.

“I felt very unsafe at those locations. It took me two shifts to realize that this was not a place I felt comfortable,” she said.

That’s because Nicot, who worked for a company called Amphibious Medics, didn’t have protective gear of her own — no gloves, no mask, no safety goggles — when taking worker temperatures. Plus, she says the thermometer’s readings, at least the brand used on the construction sites, are meant for hot/cold spots, not humans.

Amphibious Medics said the protective equipment meant for Nicot had been stolen from a trailer at the construction site.

The company says theft of this vital equipment is rampant at a time there is a major shortage of it.

“Half of our supplies come through FedEx, UPS and getting there and finding supplies were stolen midway through. Why? Because it says essential medical supplies outside the boxes,” Curran said.

Moreover, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order relies on federal guidance when it comes to construction, so it’s interpreted as essential, at least in Austin.

The city’s Development Services Department clarified Thursday evening that “all construction is considered essential.”

Because construction companies continue to operate, they’ve been hiring companies like Amphibious Medics that can screen workers at their sites.

Amphibious Medics CEO Michael Donoghue said the company has a backlog of requests from 400 construction sites and had to come up with a streamlined approach to fever screening.

Regarding the thermometers, Donoghue said: “Home Depot had Ryobis. Those had a slightly different potential variance on the temperature, but you could get a good baseline on it.”

He added that the infrared thermometers are only used for initial screenings.

But medical professionals like Nicot think that without proper screening measures, work sites should shut down.

“I think that would be the best idea because slowing the spread should be the focus right now,” Nicot said.

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