Construction Work Was Already Dangerous. Coronavirus Is Making It Worse.

Michelle Chen

A week ago, Dave, a union painter in New York City, was on a job painting school buildings with a city-contracted company. There was “no extra sanitizing being done” at the worksite, he said, and workers were “on top of each other,” not able to keep 6 feet between them, as coronavirus prevention guidelines recommend.

Dave, who asked HuffPost not to use his real name, feared that continuing to work would put him and his son, who has respiratory problems, at risk of contracting COVID-19, especially since he didn’t know how many of his co-workers might have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I’ve never heard of anyone that was told to self-quarantine at all,” he said of his fellow construction workers. “Anyone that has decided to self-quarantine for themselves basically has been disciplined or threatened that you won’t have a job back... which is absolutely insane, in my mind.”

Within a few days of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 27 order suspending all “nonessential” construction projects in the state as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, nonemergency school construction was halted and Dave was transferred to a new site, where he said he felt safer because he was working alone. But, like many construction workers he’s spoken to, he’s still uneasy.

We are not health care workers. We did not take an oath to perform our duty during a time of crisis. I am a painter, and I sincerely believe the work I am doing is absolutely not essential. A contractor in New York City

“Are these really ‘essential’ jobs at this time during a health pandemic?” he questioned, texting from his worksite. “We could drastically decrease the rate of exposure and spread if these jobs were shut down, even if it was for a few weeks. We are not health care workers. We did not take an oath to perform our duty during a time of crisis. I am a painter, and I sincerely believe the work I am doing is absolutely not...

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