COVID-19 concerns grow as Miami construction sites remain open

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As the construction industry in Miami-Dade strives to raise safety standards to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, the public and private sentiment that the yards should close continues to grow.

Residents who live inside buildings where cosmetic repairs are carried out agonize over non-stop noise. Other people living near construction sites are trapped in their homes, where they cannot escape the sharp beeps of heavy machinery.

“We are so upset,” said Carole Brendel, 67, who lives with her husband, Jurgen, 75, on the 29th floor at 2020 North Bayshore Drive in Edgewater, next to the site where developer Mill Creek Residential builds the building. 28 storeys. Modera Biscayne Bay luxury condo tour.

“We are not sleeping,” said Brendel. “We are stressed. Construction started six months ago, but at the time we weren’t trapped inside our home 24/7. Now the beeping of the cement trucks wakes us up at 7 a.m. every morning and doesn’t stop. I’m so desperate, I’m thinking about throwing eggs at them. Maybe it will help you. Why can’t they stop until it’s over? “

Although several cities in Miami-Dade, including Golden Beach and Key Biscayne, have banned most construction in their jurisdictions, there are no such bans for Miami and the rest of the county.

But demand is increasing. Although most developers and contractors declined to comment on the story, some experts warn that no matter how many safety precautions are taken, construction sites remain a potentially hot area for the spread of COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the virus.

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Workers at the Miami Worldcenter site on NE Second Avenue and NE Eighth Street in downtown Miami on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Al Diaz [email protected]

“We take COVID-19 very seriously and our teams are actively monitoring the situation and directives from national officials and local jurisdictions,” industry spokesperson Suffolk Construction said in an email. “The safety of our employees and business partners remains our number one priority. Our security protocols, training and checklists will continue to evolve in response to new developments and guidelines. “

Among the precautions taken by Suffolk: minimize face-to-face meetings and large gatherings, apply social distance guidelines of six feet or more, and inspect all individuals on construction sites daily to make sure they are symptom-free ( including giving them an identification band to indicate that they have been checked).

Coronavirus spreads

But the evidence supports that it might not be enough. Friday, Wholesale and plumbing wholesaler Century Wholesale closed indefinitely after two of its suppliers, who had visited construction sites around Miami-Dade, tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, Carlos Pino, the company’s CEO, and another employee have also tested positive.

Pino is the brother of developer Sergio Pino, president of Century Homebuilders and on March 31 called on the industry to shut down all construction sites for 14 days to stop the spread of the virus.

On March 26, Pino was forced to stop working on the $ 100 million mixed-use project, 850 LeJeune Road, after two workers tested positive. The site was reopened on April 1 with a reduced team of 44 workers, compared to 200 at the start.

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A construction team is setting up steel works on the 400 Biscayne Boulevard site on Thursday, April 2, 2020. The building, when completed, will be 49 stories high. Al Diaz [email protected]

Now Pino has decided to close its eight active sites indefinitely on Tuesday. He also implores the mayor of Miami-Dade, Carlos Gimenez, and the county commissioners to order the construction industry to do the same.

“Most of the people who work on my sites are not angry with me,” he said. “The problem is that I am not exclusive to certain subcontractors. They want to continue working because it is not illegal to work. It will take a public company to lead by example before the rest of the industry follows suit. “

Advocacy to the Mayor of Miami-Dade

On Tuesday afternoon, Pino sent a letter to Gimenez, inviting him to “make the difficult and difficult decision to consider closing all construction sites for 10 working days starting next week, as more and more workers in this sector test positive for coronavirus.

“More than half of the construction workers are not going to work because they have symptoms of the virus or because they are afraid of contracting the disease,” the letter said. “Keeping job sites open only prolongs the inevitable as people working at the sites will continue to be infected … two weeks for everyone to take care of the problem in two weeks. That’s what the experts say.

“We understand that there is a downturn in our industry and I understand that it is a huge financial cost”, concludes the letter. “But what is worse? There is no alternative. Mr. Mayor, we all know that this virus can have an impact on the lives of many people, especially our elderly population. With your leadership, we can carefully plan a fixed date so that we all have the opportunity to collect the tools and secure all the sites. “

Health specialists

Many major developers are doing everything they can to keep work environments safe. Robins & Morton, the national healthcare construction company, is currently working at Baptist Hospital Kendall on an expansion that will add more than 120 intensive care, patient and surgery rooms.

“We follow directions from the CDC and government health agencies, as well as OSHA and other occupational health and safety experts,” said Joe Forsthoffer, spokesperson for Robins & Morton.

“We have specific and documented COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including improved cleaning, disinfection of surfaces and commonly affected tools, daily monitoring of symptoms and strengthening of CDC prevention guidelines for all those are working on projects, “said Forsthoffer. “In addition to that, the county police check almost daily to make sure we are working safely. “

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On Thursday April 2, 2020, two workers from the construction site of the Monaco Yacht Club and Residences in Miami Beach transport a generator. Carl Juste [email protected]

Ryan Shear, managing partner of Property Management Group, said his company had ordered 1,000 N95 masks from China to distribute to workers at its three active sites: 49 Bishayne Blvd. in Miami, 301 SW First Ave, 34 storeys high. in Fort Lauderdale and another building in Phoenix, Ariz.

Workers at 400 Biscayne Blvd. the site receives self-filtering documents, site logistics maps that highlight safety concerns and are encouraged to wash their hands at additional stations posted around the site.

“I don’t know of any site that takes this as seriously as we do,” he said. “There are times when workers have to stand close to each other, such as when fastening reinforcing steel. We cannot break construction safety rules. But we are pretty strict about sharing information with our employees on how to build while avoiding spreading the virus. “

Torture at home

Some residents who adhere to the retention mandate are now driven mad by the noise of construction that they would not normally have to face if they had to work as usual.

Buddy Varolo, 82, lives with his wife in the Arlen House condo building in Sunny Isles Beach. They’ve been staying in their apartment for a month, but the construction crews doing repairs outside the building are so noisy that they plan to move into their Long Island home until the pandemic ends.

“They use jackhammers on concrete and metal,” said Varolo. “It makes the whole condo shake. The work started in January, but before we could leave the house during the day and get away from the noise. Now we’re stuck here, my wife is having headaches and we can’t even open the doors to our balcony because they’re locked from the outside. They could stop working for a month. This building is not going to fall. “

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A row of handwashing stations at the PMG construction site at 400 Biscayne Boulevard, where the company is building a 49-story apartment building.

The almost constant screeching of construction drills right outside her window made self-isolation almost unbearable for Sarra Adnani, a resident of Nirvana Condominiums on 63rd Street Northeast.

Adnani, whose South Beach yoga studio, Atmananda Yoga Miami, was closed by Miami Beach as part of a drastic closure of “non-essential” businesses, said the loss of income had already caused the pandemic a personal crisis.

But now she’s losing her composure.

“I do yoga and meditate every day. I am a calm person. But it would drive anyone crazy, “she said. “The balconies are locked. We are in detention. It’s quite stressful. “

She called on the city and county governments to close construction sites until the end of the pandemic. Property managers have told residents that construction cannot stop until an order comes from above, said Adnani.

“Since the city did not tell them to stop, they do not have to stop,” she said.

Miami Herald editor Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this report.