But Austin Mayor Steve Adler said if construction workers don't follow social distancing practices and personal hygiene recommendations, thousands of additional patients could be hospitalized for COVID-19.
"If they don't mitigate well, if workers are passing the virus between them, then the total hospitalizations in our city could be three times higher than it would be without construction activity," Adler said in a Facebook Live Tuesday night.
Adler cited a report by University of Texas at Austin researchers. The report stated that there are an estimated 50,000 construction workers in the Austin metropolitan area.
In the last sentence of the "overview" section of the report, it reads, "Under a scenario of effective social distancing and a large construction workforce, the hospitalization risk is expected to be two to three times higher for construction workers than non-construction workers."
Mayor Adler presented some of the charts from the report at a press conference on Wednesday.
"So, if there's a low risk, if construction sites are doing all the mitigation that they can reasonably do, you can see that the number of hospitalizations is about the same even with construction as they would be if we didn't have construction," Adler said. "And the difference here between those two bars is only how much construction site mitigation takes place, how well we're protecting those workers. And by protecting those workers, we protect the entire community."
The report also gives multiple scenarios. You can view the report in full below:
Adler also said Wednesday that he plans to meet with representatives in the construction industry.
Local health authorities have sent out recommendations for construction sites to keep their workplaces clean. But Adler said he could move to turn those recommendations into requirements.
The Home Builders Association of Greater Austin told KVUE in a statement on Wednesday:
"The construction industry is among the most safety-conscious industries in the world. On a daily basis, even before COVID-19, the construction industry operates within strict federal, state and local safety rules and regulations (e.g., OSHA, permits, inspections).
There are important reasons the Department of Homeland Security determined that construction is an essential business, and they did not do so lightly. The fact that some folks don’t like that determination does not change the facts.
To even suggest that construction workers are more likely to become sick than your average beauty supply store worker, music producer or car wash owner, (all deemed by the City of Austin as “essential business”) is not supported by fact or science. The UT model focuses on a select 4% of the workforce that already adheres to advanced safety protocols, and includes a broad range of incorrect assumptions. Within just the first few paragraphs, the flawed assumptions are evident, beginning with the assertion that construction workers can easily migrate from one worksite to another. To use as a foundational basis that workers can unilaterally and proactively swarm to other worksites is irrational and defies logic.
The governor, County and City have issued clear safety protocols that limit the number of workers on a jobsite. Therefore, to support a model that contact between construction workers would “double” is wild speculation with no basis in reality. And even if you rely on the model, with the safety protocols already in place (both pre- and post-COVID-19), the risk of increased exposure should be less than for your pizza delivery.
There will always be bad actors. All you have to do is walk outside your door to see a wide range of people not obeying the law, but in America we punish the offenders, not everyone for the actions of a few. We received a complaint and photo of workers not abiding by the social distancing protocols, and ironically, it was a photo of City of Austin workers.
Instead of focusing on demonizing one industry, especially one that has been determined to be an essential business, not just locally, but also statewide and nationally, we should all be working together to find the best solutions to move our City forward. The HBA has been regularly providing information about the latest in safety protocols, and will continue to do so. We support the construction industry mantra of Safety First. We will continue to work with elected officials to educate them on effective safety measures."
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