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Austin health officials seeing spike in COVID-19 cases among construction workers

Health officials are coming up with target testing for these construction hot zones.

AUSTIN, Texas — Construction crews in Texas have been allowed to keep working, even throughout the quarantine. Now, Austin health officials have seen a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases with construction workers and their families. 

According to Austin's Heath Authority, this industry is one of the more dominant ones for coronavirus cases in Central Texas. 

Dr. Mark Escott told city council members on Tuesday, May 5, there has been a significant increase in cases around construction sites and with crew family members.

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"That's why social distancing remains very important," Escott said.

After prohibiting construction on projects not deemed essential, the City of Austin announced on April 2 that all construction is allowed again.

Dr. Escott added that health officials are coming up with target testing for construction sites or other potential hot zones for the virus. 

At least two sub-contractor workers for a construction site near Downtown Austin have tested positive for COVID-19.

"I think we've all seen social media posts and photos and I've even encountered it waiting in line to get into H-E-B, seeing construction work happening even at a small scale without protective equipment, without masks, without necessary social distancing," Austin City Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan said. 

Flannigan came up with a resolution he said could help. If passed, the City would offer money to local businesses, including construction companies, to help them fund health protections for workers. 

"Lest there be any barrier to providing the necessary protection for workers, we're going to be using some federal dollars to get that done," Flannigan said.

The money would come from CARES Act funding the City received. 

But some say construction companies are already doing everything they can. 

Tracey Littlefield, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors of Central Texas, was shocked to hear Austin leaders attribute many coronavirus clusters to the construction industry.

"We've been holding regularly scheduled safety forums with them where we're virtually discussing best practices on job sites, how we're keeping our folks safe, and we're just not hearing that type of data in the experience coming out of our members," Littlefield said. 

Representatives from the Workers Defense Project, a Texas-based group that advocates for construction workers, are concerned by the news from the city. Advocates hope for more protective equipment and guidelines from Austin. 

"Because of the nature of the work, there needs to be additional steps taken to protect construction workers," co-executive director of Workers Defense Project Emily Timm said. "There needs to be extra attention paid to whether those standards are being met." 

Austin City Council is expected to vote on the resolution during its meeting scheduled for Thursday.

As of right now, drive-thru testing is available at the Austin Regional Clinic, Austin Emergency Center, Baylor Scott & White, CommUnity Care Health Centers, Dell Medical Center, and more. Here's a full list.

WATCH: Austin construction workers test positive for COVID-19

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