Tracing COVID-19 cases back to construction sites proves challenging

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin Public Health says it has traced several cases to construction workers, as many fear continued work will lead to greater spread of COVID-19 cases.

“Its really stressful.,” said the wife of a construction worker. We’re not using her name or her husband’s company for privacy reasons.

 She says when several workers at her husband’s site tested positive for COVID-19, he was quarantined and tested. The test came back negative.

“The anxiety of sitting and just waiting, even him (now) going to work every day,” she said.

KXAN continues to hear from people who worry about construction workers being in close quarters or not having wearing masks on the job.

“Construction crew wearing masks but not utilizing them over face,” reported one 311 caller. “Not maintaining a six-foot distance.”

An Austin Public Health spokesperson said that it is difficult to trace clusters, or three more cases, back to specific construction sites, since workers often travel from one site to another.

“In some cases, nursing homes and construction sites are similar considering employees may be contractors and may work at several sites in the City/County,” the spokesperson said. “Every location of each site itself can be difficult to trace.”

The city says while it tracks COVID-19 cases by occupation, but that the information was “not readily available.”

Austin City Council member Greg Casar says construction workers are vulnerable.

“We have to stay vigilant, and a potential weak point are those construction sites,” he said.

He told KXAN as business starts to open up, the city may need to come down harder on construction companies that violate social distancing orders.

“I think that rather that doing simple education, the city should be issuing much stronger warnings and then potentially moving up to stronger enforcement, which includes things like financial penalties,” he said.

The local Associated Builders and Contractors’ Association is encouraging job sites to host a “Safety Stand Down” this Thursday.

It would be done digitally to discuss safe work practices to keep workers safe.

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