Durham COVID-19 cases among Latino construction workers rising

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Alex Manning, who owns A2Z Contractors in Durham, constantly reminds his employees to sanitize their hands, wear their face masks, and wear shoe coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If you have to talk with a homeowner, just keep your distance," Manning tells them. "Clean your hands on the way in. Clean your hands on the way out."

None of Manning's employees have gotten the coronavirus, but other construction workers haven't been so lucky.

Durham County has nearly 400 cases among construction workers. According to the health department, 92 percent of those are Latino.

While Hispanics account for only 14 percent of the population in Durham County, they account for almost 63 percent of all COVID-19 cases.

MORE: Durham COVID-19 Data

Roberto Carlos Lopez owns Roca's Welding in Durham. He said none of his employees have contracted COVID-19. He said they wear safety glasses, gloves, and a hard hat with facemask and shield at construction sites.

"They check your temperature before you get into the gate, then after you get checked at the gate and everything is normal, for each day they give you a sticker like this and that sticker, you put them on your hard hat," Lopez said. "That means when the safety man sees you walking around the job site, he knows you are already checked."

He said safety meetings are different.

"It used to be a crowd but now each crew has his own foreman and we minimize the amount of people at those safety meetings and also they talk every day about this COVID-19, how to prevent," Lopez said.

Statewide, Hispanics now account for nearly half of all COVID-19 cases, while only making up about 10 percent of the population.

MORE: State COVID-19 Data

El Centro Hispano in Durham, which provides resources for the Latino community in the Triangle, launched a Spanish ad campaign this week. It is designed to remind people about the importance of wearing masks, socially distancing and washing your hands.

El Centro Hispano Unida Contra el Virus Campaign

"We've been trying to develop materials that are culturally appropriate for the community," said El Centro Hispano President & CEO Pilar Rocha-Goldberg.

She said those working in construction face special challenges.

"It's all these issues, about getting to work and working with the masks, and how far they need to be apart," Rocha-Goldberg said.

Manning admits it's not comfortable working with masks.

"With this heat, moisture, dust, it's harder," Manning said. "But we have to do it. It's a must."

Rocha-Goldberg said some construction workers fear losing pay if they call in sick. She said more employers should give their employees sick pay time if they need it.

Lopez said he stresses the importance of health to his employees.

"I (tell) my guys every Monday, 6 in the morning, (if) you feel sick please let me know," Lopez said, adding that he tells them not to worry about taking a day off and losing a day's pay. "We try to take care of people. I told my guys, 'We are going to make sure you get paid at least your 40 hours.' That's really important."

The Hispanic Contractors Association of the Carolinas is helping contractors with resources to educate employees about COVID-19.

MORE: Resources for Contractors
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