As the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads throughout the U.S., construction companies must once again follow reinstated local mask mandates, practice social distancing on job sites, and limit company meetings and gatherings, according to constructiondive.com. In addition, some contractors are facing requests or requirements for fully-vaccinated crews from clients.
“Contractors that we work with are doubling down on their efforts to make sure workers both in their offices and on job sites are following local and federal mandates,” says Brian A. Wolf, a partner of construction law firm Smith, Currie & Hancock, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “They’re taking the health and safety of their employees and the public very seriously.”
COVID-19 cases recently hit 100,000 new daily infections nationally—a metric not seen since February—and health care professionals predict the number could reach 200,000 within weeks. The New York Timesrecently reported breakthrough cases, where individuals are infected with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, accounted for between 18% and 28% of all new infections.
The current surge in cases could have broader effects, shutting down businesses and slowing manufacturing processes and project progress. Many large employers—such as the federal government, U.S. military and Disney—have announced they will require employees to be vaccinated to return to work. Amid the recent Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the construction industry is facing vaccine hesitancy among workers as project owners begin to require vaccinated workers on job sites.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve started to get vaccine mandates from owners on jobs,” says Kyle Peacock, CEO of Peacock Construction, San Francisco, who notes about 75% of his direct employees are vaccinated, though rates among his subcontractors are lower. “All of our health care clients are doing it, but we’ve also had a couple office tenants that said they’re only going to let vaccinated people into their offices. It’s an issue we’re trying to solve.”
Contractors are concerned the mandates will make the industry’s labor shortage even worse. They also are struggling with how to implement these types of requirements. Peacock and others have implemented Safe Site Check In, a job-site screening app that workers have used during the pandemic, which can be customized to ask about vaccine status. Workers can answer “Yes,” “No” or “I choose not to answer.”
Landmark Builders, San Jose, Calif., uses the app and has been tracking responses regarding vaccination status; the company has seen a 60% vaccinated and 40% unvaccinated rate among its subcontractors, which aligns with construction worker vaccination surveys.
Contractors such as Peacock say they have not issued vaccine mandates for their companies but do not rule out the possibility. Instead, they have launched programs to encourage workers to get vaccinated and provided education to help workers decide.