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Subcontractors Working on App State Campus Project Fearful of Spreading COVID-19 to Other Coworkers and Family Members

By Nathan Ham

At least 14 employees of various subcontractors working on the student housing project at Appalachian State have tested positive for COVID-19 according to AppHealthCare. Now, those workers are concerned about not only their health but the health of others who they may have come in contact with.

On Wednesday, a wife of one of the employees contacted the High Country Press and spoke at length about her fears. She did not want to be identified by name or have her husband’s company identified by name. Both she and her husband are anxiously awaiting results of their COVID-19 tests and know about others that have just recently tested positive or are also awaiting their test results.

The student housing project, building 100 and building 200 on Stadium Drive, is where the subcontractors have been working. Numerous subcontractors have been affected by the spread of the virus.

“Two weeks ago, plumbing subcontractors reported to the management that nine out of their 11 men had tested positive for coronavirus. They were then removed from the job. An electric contractor reported last Friday that five tested positive and then 17 tested positive on Monday,” the wife of an employee said.

Two other subcontractors reported three and five positive cases, respectively.

A message was left with AppHealthCare on Wednesday afternoon to confirm these positive test numbers. The story will be updated if we hear back from the health department.

The increased number of positive tests could coincide with the 137 tests that AppHealthCare conducted last Friday. A total of 14 people were tested in Watauga County today.

The wife continued, saying she has not felt well and has underlying health issues, and that her husband had been to visit his parents. His mom is currently undergoing cancer treatments.

“At the end of the day, this is what they (general contractor) have done to people because someone came to them originally and said this is what’s going on and they didn’t take action. They told the plumbers to keep their mouths shut and say nothing. The electricians were told the same thing and they have now told my husband the same thing,” she said.

The wife said that now all of a sudden, the general contractor has revised their COVID-19 coronavirus regulation outline.

“They still haven’t told everyone on that job site that workers have tested positive and that they need to be careful,” she said.

Many of the workers live outside Watauga County in neighboring towns, including the husband and wife that have raised these concerns about working conditions. She says that she is concerned that since many of the workers are such a tightknit group and share living quarters together, the virus will spread to more and more workers and potentially their own families.

Some of the other complaints from workers on the job site include no hand sanitizer anywhere on the site, portable toilets are supposed to be switched out daily but most of the time they are only switched out once a week and a lack of communication from the general contractor to the subcontractors on the site.

“We got a phone call from one of our guys who was deathly ill with a 105-degree temperature. That’s how it all got started. They had their construction meeting yesterday that happens every Tuesday for an hour and there was not one word mentioned that you have plumbers, electricians, fire and safety workers, and HVAC workers that have tested positive for coronavirus,” she said.

In order to meet the deadline to complete the job, the wife said that the subcontractors that cannot come back to work are replaced.

“So my husband that can’t get his men to come to work that have tested positive for the coronavirus and should not be on the job site, and the four more that just left sick and are being tested, the general contractor has now brought in nine people to take over the job and will get the money for that job instead of my husband’s company,” she said. “Something has to be done. We are worried that the coronavirus is just going to keep spreading.”

The communication office at Appalachian State directed High Country Press for a comment to their Coronavirus Information website to a press release posted there on June 2nd at 6:30 p.m. that states:

AppHealthCare has confirmed eleven additional subcontractors who were working on university construction sites have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, seven are Watauga County residents and the others lives in other areas. The last days on campus for the subcontracted workers were May 22-26.

All have fully cooperated with isolation instructions and are recovering at home. Public health staff have identified close contacts, who have been instructed to quarantine and who are being provided access to testing during their quarantine period.

Workers will remain off campus until cleared by public health to return.

The case investigation continues, and public health staff will be encouraging testing for those with exposure during their quarantine period. App State and AppHealthCare will work together to continue monitoring COVID-19 at the university and in our community and to keep the public informed.

The university continues working closely with public health and values this relationship, which has allowed for increased testing at construction sites, consistent and transparent reporting to the university and Boone communities, and coordinated public health education measures.

Some key outcomes of this partnership include:

  • AppHealthCare and App State have partnered together with all construction contractors working at the university to conduct broader testing at worksites, including those that have not experienced a positive case to date.
  • The university is implementing enhanced precautionary measures with employees who are on campus as well as with subcontracted workers, which include wearing face coverings, maintaining appropriate physical distance and reviewing North Carolina Governor’s Executive Orders 131 and 135, which require all individuals to wear face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of distance in public areas or work centers.
  • AppHealthCare and App State are partnering on a public health campaign for members of the university community, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks.
  • Our partnership with AppHealthCare also helps verify tests that may have been performed in other counties. As we hear of self-reported cases that are not being tested by AppHealthCare or App State, we are coordinating with local public health agencies to the greatest extent possible, in consultation with the North Carolina Division of Public Health Communicable Disease team.