Updated March 26, 2020 - 10:29 am
When Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos, gyms and other Nevada businesses closed to help contain the new coronavirus, he let construction workers stay on the job.
Government leaders across the U.S. have let construction go on during the outbreak. Job sites can be operated safely amid the pandemic, public health experts told the Review-Journal, if extra precautions are taken.
“I think it can be managed, but that doesn’t mean it will be,” said Noah Seixas, director of the University of Washington’s Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety.
Las Vegas began 2020 in a construction boom, with billions of dollars’ worth of projects underway, including apartments, hotels, warehouses, a football stadium and more.
Sisolak deemed homebuilding and other construction “essential” lines of work last week — with hospitals, grocery stores and others — during the public health crisis, which has sparked shutdowns and stay-at-home orders around the nation.
Still, like anyone else, construction industry workers are at risk from the virus, which has thrown the U.S. and other countries into turmoil.
A worker at the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, project officials said Wednesday, a day after developer Genting Group said a worker on its $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas project tested positive.
Last month Genting said the site had around 2,200 construction workers daily. There were about 2,000 people working on Allegiant Stadium last month too.
“People are nervous. … You can kind of feel it in the air,” said a Resorts World worker, who was granted anonymity to protect their job.
Resorts World said in a statement Wednesday that management has been “diligently looking at ways to enhance preventative measures and will continue to do so,” including, as of Tuesday, having an on-site ambulance and trained medical staff conducting vitals checks.
Asked Wednesday to comment on the stadium case and whether Sisolak is considering suspending construction statewide, the governor’s office said that as new cases unfold, he will “continue to consult with the medical advisory team and evaluate any new decisions that need to be made.”
Working outside ‘advantageous’
State officials have released guidance saying Nevada construction sites should ensure workers remain 6 feet apart, restrict meetings and gatherings to no more than 10 people and conduct daily surveys of workers’ health conditions.
A spokeswoman for Resorts World said Tuesday that management rolled out new policies to “minimize the risk of coronavirus,” including daily temperature checks of all workers, additional hand-washing stations throughout the site and increased “sanitation” of portable restrooms.
Allegiant Stadium construction leaders said Wednesday that all workers undergo a verbal health screening, worker concentrations were reduced, and sanitation and cleaning have increased, including in high-traffic areas, which are sanitized multiple times a day.
Jeanne Stellman, professor emerita of health policy and management at Columbia University, said job sites should have decent bathrooms with hand-washing stations, and work involving people in close quarters should “probably be stopped,” or the laborers should wear respiratory equipment.
Nevadans also should ask “how essential” all of the construction is and how to ensure maximum protection “for the people who are on the job” and that they don’t bring infections home, she added.
Seixas, of the University of Washington, said working outdoors, as construction crews often do, is “advantageous” because airborne materials can dissipate.
But he noted construction work also is done indoors, and managers should ensure there aren’t multiple people in confined spaces at the same time.
Workers also should be required to wash their hands throughout the day, Seixas said.
‘Counting on us’
Homebuilders also have made changes amid the turmoil.
Workers have spread apart, some design centers have temporarily shut down, and builders are closing their local headquarters, Southern Nevada Home Builders Association chief executive Nat Hodgson said last week.
But he hadn’t heard that any homebuilder intends to slow or stop construction.
Kent Lay, Las Vegas division president of builder Woodside Homes, said last week that people are “counting on us to get their homes done.”
New-home buyers might be under contract to sell their current house, and while some can lease it back after that sale closes, others might have to leave.
“What do they do if we can’t continue building their houses for them?” Lay said.
As tracked by the Associated General Contractors of America, construction is being exempted across the U.S. from closures. But at least a few politicians have pulled the plug.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh suspended all regular activity at construction sites in his city last week, saying at a news conference such decisions are made out of an “abundance of caution.”
“It’s about protecting the worker and preventing the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.