One of Miami-Dade’s leading builders, Sergio Pino, issued a public plea Tuesday for the construction industry to shut down construction sites and prevent an outbreak of coronavirus among their workers.
“The only way to stop the spread of this virus is by cutting its roots,” Pino, president of Century Homebuilders, said in an email. Construction workers, he said, “continue to be exposed and have already been infected. This will result in a chain reaction across the board in all jobsites as long as they remain open.”
He called on fellow builders to “close simultaneously” and halt the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. He said Century was considering shutting down its sites for 10 work days, but that the lack of an industry-wide closure “will defeat the purpose and this virus will continue to multiply from jobsite to jobsite and into our homes.”
On March 26th, Pino became the first developer in Miami-Dade to cease work at one of his sites, the $100 million mixed-use project 850 LeJeune Road, after two of his workers tested positive for coronavirus.
The site is being disinfected and the company asked all its subcontractors and employees who had been at the location over the last 14 days to get tested and consider self-isolating.
After Pino learned that two of the subcontractors, an electrician and a shell contractor, had instead gotten jobs at other sites and were potentially infecting other workers, he decided closure is the only step for the industry to take.
“Everybody is doing their part and we should do ours,” Pino told the Herald. “Our industry is not going to suffer from shutting down for 10 days. I don’t think we are an essential business. We’re not gas stations or pharmacies or supermarkets.”
Construction sites have been spared by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has declared much of the county’s economy non-essential in issuing emergency orders closing offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, salons, marinas and any business that doesn’t fall into what his decrees declare essential.
Some cities have imposed restrictions on construction sites. Golden Beach’s emergency order bans construction, and Key Biscayne on Friday said all construction at multi-family dwellings has to stop by 6:30 p.m. Monday. The village also ordered remaining construction sites to have workers protective gear “consistent with industry standards.” Surfside on Sunday ordered all construction to halt by Monday, April 6, at 5 a.m.
During a video press conference Tuesday, Gimenez was asked why the construction industry was deemed essential during the pandemic emergency. “It’s essential for the jobs it’s creating,” he said. “Once we recover from this, we need to have construction continue.”
The construction industry, a reliable source of campaign donations across Miami-Dade, has so far successfully fought to keep its sites off of the closure list. That effort became even more challenging last week when Miami-Dade shut down its inspection services after a COVID-19 outbreak at the building that houses the permitting staff. More than 400 workers were told to go home and self-isolate for 14 days, meaning no field inspectors would be available until April 8.
Rather than halt construction, Gimenez over the weekend waived inspection requirements and allowed builders to use private architects and engineers to clear work for temporary occupancy permits. Miami announced a similar step, starting Tuesday.
“Little by little, it’s already happening anyway,” Pino said. “Our industry is slowing down and we’re keeping it going with Band-Aids. If I want to have an inspection, I have to hire an engineer who may or may not know what they are doing. And even when the inspection is done, we don’t know when the county is going to be open again to approve it.”
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