Coronavirus outbreaks have hit staff working in the close quarters of Colorado nursing homes, prisons and jails, food-manufacturing plants and restaurants. Add construction workers to that list, as the number of job sites with outbreaks continues to rise.
A construction crew building a school in Kit Carson fell ill with the virus, sickening 26 workers this summer. Thirteen workers were infected while building off-campus student housing for Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
In Rifle, a crew working on a hospital project ended up with 15 workers with COVID-19, forcing construction to halt. And in the Denver area, a landscaping company had 14 workers infected with COVID-19 — including two deaths — and an insulation company had 15 workers with the virus.
Several of the outbreaks, including the one at Alpha Insulation and Waterproofing, have been resolved, but there are at least eight active outbreaks involving construction crews in Colorado, according to the state health department’s weekly outbreak list. Alpha Insulation, which has several offices throughout the United States, declined to talk about how the outbreak started, the efforts to contain its spread or where their staff was working when employees were infected.
“In an effort to respect our staff’s privacy, Alpha will not release any information about those affected,” company spokeswoman Ericka Brause said.
The hospital project in Garfield County, where 15 workers were sick and forced to isolate, was put on hold last month after several workers came down with symptoms. Public health workers who investigated the outbreak and conducted dozens of phone interviews to determine who was exposed said the virus spread because workers grew lax about wearing their masks.
“They were working in an enclosed space and we all get complacent,” said Carrie Godes, a public health specialist at Garfield County Public Health. “It’s a good take-away lesson for all of us in our work environment. We feel a false sense of security.”
Godes said workers at the Rifle construction site would wear their masks when new people were on the job, but when it was just their regular crew, they didn’t always wear masks or didn’t wear them correctly.
“Put that mask on, inside especially,” she said.
All 15 workers are recovering and no new cases have been reported in several days, but under state health department guidelines, the outbreak isn’t considered resolved until 28 days from the last infection. The construction company working on the project, FCI Constructors, declined an interview request about the outbreak. Grand River Health said in a news release that the outbreak is not expected to delay the opening of its care center, planned for January.
Cheyenne County public health officials did not respond to numerous emails and phone messages from The Colorado Sun requesting information about the outbreak tied to the school building construction in Kit Carson. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said 26 workers tested positive for the virus, and that the outbreak began in mid-May.
Construction outbreaks that have been resolved include Schommer Construction in El Paso, the Origin Hotel in Westminster, the Del Rio Hotel construction site in La Plata County and the Bespoke Uptown project in Denver. An Arapahoe County landscaping company, Keesen Landscape, had 12 cases of the virus and two deaths, according to the state health department.
State public health officials are urging construction companies to limit the number of workers per crew to the “minimum number of people possible” to do the work safely, to keep workers 6 feet apart if possible and to limit contact with visitors to job sites. They have also asked that companies do temperature checks and monitor workers for symptoms.
The latest state outbreak list, released Wednesday, includes active outbreaks among workers at four grocery stores and 26 restaurants. Outbreaks are also ongoing at 13 correctional facilities, including the Pueblo Youth Services Center.
Outbreaks at nursing homes and senior living centers have dominated the list for months, but the spread is slowing in those facilities. The list includes 932 deaths of residents of senior facilities, including 778 that have been confirmed by a lab and 154 that are suspected as COVID-19 deaths.
There have been 3,330 cases of the virus among residents and more than 2,600 among staff. Seven workers at the facilities have died.
Nearly 50 nursing homes and senior living centers are dealing with outbreaks still considered active, but the majority of outbreaks at those facilities — 126 — are now resolved.
State public health officials said outbreaks at nursing homes have been curbed through a combination of no-visitor policies, frequent virus testing and shipments of personal protective equipment for staff.
Visitation is now allowed, but is limited to outdoors.
“The work in these facilities is not finished,” the Colorado Joint Information Center, which handles media requests about the virus, said in an emailed statement.