Study links construction workers to more coronavirus hospitalizations

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As coronavirus hospitalizations spiked over the summer, Frank Fuentes felt Austin construction workers needed better messaging for COVID-19 safety and protocols.

“You gotta be quick, you gotta be crisp and you gotta be clear,” said Fuentes, who is Chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association in Austin.

The Association created several videos, in English and Spanish, about different topics including the importance of mask-wearing and testing.

Fuentes says the 30-second ads are more relatable, adding a majority of the construction workers in Austin are immigrants or may not speak English.

“In the Latino culture, family is everything,” he explained. “It gives them that extra level of concern, that if I’m not careful, I might be the reason why grandma might die.”

Construction workers have been one of the groups most vulnerable during the pandemic.

According to a new University of Texas study, construction workers are far more likely to be hospitalized by COVID-19 than workers in a different occupation.

UT researchers at the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium analyzed hospitalization data in Austin from mid-March to mid-August and found construction workers were more than five times as likely to be hospitalized with the coronavirus as workers in other occupations.

Researchers said the higher vulnerability for construction workers probably stems from construction work happening throughout the pandemic and during periods of stay-at-home orders. They also cited the nature of the work that requires close contact with others to be another risk factor.

As local hospitalizations soared during June and July, there was one two-week period where Austin Public Health was tracking six COVID-19 clusters within the construction industry—meaning six sites had three or more cases.

But APH says the good news is the city isn’t tracking any right now.

“For many weeks, Austin Public Health has not seen clusters of COVID-19 cases associated with the construction industry,” said a city spokesperson.

The spokesperson added APH attributes the decreasing spread among the construction community to “intentional efforts to conduct outreach, education and targeted testing.”

Fuentes said he hopes this means the hospitalization gap found in the UT study could be closing. He says the community needs to remain vigilant with safety protocols and avoid “COVID-19 fatigue.”

“It’s important that we keep our foot on the pedal,” he said. “This is not over yet.”

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