COVID-19: Austin Requires Wearing Facial Coverings for Construction, Other ‘Essential’ Activities
Featured Photo (above): DPR Construction released a video showing how its crews comply with different public health requirements on the job in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Image: DPR Construction
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–Construction crews and other workers in permitted “essential” business activities must now cover their faces while out and about, according to new local rules.
The city of Austin and Travis County extended their “stay home, work safe” orders for April 14 through May 8, expanding efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
The current public health emergency was extended the same week as the release of a local university study that expresses concern for construction sites as potential hot spots for spreading COVID-19.
The extended city and county orders, which became effective at 11:59 p.m. April 13, require people wear some type of non-medical-grade mask, bandana or scarf while carrying permitted functions, such as construction, building inspections and maintenance.
The facial-covering requirement applies to all individuals, regardless of whether one feels sick.
“All employers, employees and clients of essential government service, critical infrastructure and essential business shall comply to the greatest extent feasible with social distancing and face covering requirements and recommendations,” the extended order states.
The order contains a section focusing on construction requirements, mandating that project site managers ensure workers follow social distancing and facial covering rules even during non-construction activities, and that attention is paid to so-called “choke points” and “high-risk areas,” such as hallways, hoists, elevators and break areas.
The city and county also require construction site managers to:
Implement staggered shifts for sites with more than 10 active workers
Screen every worker before the start of each work day
Ensure there’s at least one hand-washing station with soap or hand sanitizer and one portable restroom stocked with hand soap and/or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for every 15 workers, and have these facilities spaced out
A video from Rogers-OBrien Construction shows their crews carrying out body temperature checks and other safety measures at job sites. Image: Rogers-OBrien Construction
Make sure workers wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, frequently, while on site
Prohibit community water coolers in favor of individual water containers
Clean and disinfect share tools, common areas and collective touch points, such as door knobs, counters, keyboards
Provide single-use disposable paper towels and no-touch trash receptacles, keep toilets clean and sanitary at all times
Designate a COVID-19 safety monitor to be on site at all times and with authority to enforce these rules
Immediately send home any worker who is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 and notify Austin Public Health
Each worker entering a job site shall sign in, and the site manager must maintain a list of names with contact information so that, should a worker test positive, the health department can do a contact tracing investigation
No worker will be subject to punitive action if he/she declines to work a construction site for fear of it posing a health risk
The orders reflect guidelines that are described in a recent University of Texas at Austin study, which states that permitting construction could increase the potential of localized outbreaks on job sites. Mayor Steve Adler had commissioned the study in March.
According to the study–even with social distancing rules, the closure of most businesses and facial covering requirements–letting construction projects proceed normally could increase the number of pandemic-related hospitalizations in the overall population – up to 30,000 by late August. There are an estimated 50,000 construction workers in the Austin area.
“Assuming that the stay home-work safe order is highly effective, allowing all construction work to proceed would be expected to triple the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin-Round Rock area, under the scenario that construction job sites have double the transmission risk of a typical workplace,” the study states.
Contractors such as Rogers-OBrien Construction, DPR Construction and Bartlett Cocke General Contractors have been using their websites and social media to demonstrate how they are expanding safety protocols at job sites..
“Bartlett Cocke General Contractors is requiring all onsite workers to fill out our daily health survey on their smart phone, accessed through a QR code, before entering the job site, and having every worker that passes the health check wear a different colored wristband,” the company states on its website.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.