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Texas study links unrestricted construction work to increased community transmission of COVID-19

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Austin, TX — Allowing construction and other high-contact work to continue without restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have increased transmission of the disease in both the industry and the surrounding community, according to a study led by researchers from the University of Texas.

Construction work in the Austin area was halted in March because of the pandemic but was allowed to resume a week later by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

The researchers reviewed hospitalization data through Aug. 20 in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area. Based on model projections from the spring through the summer, allowing “unrestricted” construction work was associated with an increased hospitalization rate, to 1.5 per 1,000 residents from 0.38 per 1,000 residents. In the construction industry, the hospitalization rate had a projected increase to 9.3 per 1,000 workers from 0.22 per 1,000 workers.

“It appears that construction work in Austin during the spring 2020 lockdown was associated with a fivefold greater COVID-19 hospitalization risk among workers and exacerbation of the local epidemic,” the researchers wrote. “However, stringent workplace safety measures could significantly mitigate these risks.”

 

Those safety measures – thorough cleaning of equipment between uses, wearing protective equipment such as face coverings, limiting the number of workers at a worksite and increasing health surveillance – were associated with a 50% decrease in virus transmission.

Other notable measures included temporarily closing “semi-essential” industries during pandemic waves, enhancing workplace safety policies and providing paid sick leave.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

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