MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (ABC7) — At least seven construction sites have temporarily ceased operation after workers tested positive for COVID-19 or displayed symptoms of the virus, a Montgomery County employee with direct knowledge of the situation told 7 On Your Side.
The list includes Marriott's future global headquarters in Downtown Bethesda, an office tower at Pike & Rose in North Bethesda and an indoor renovation at the science building on Montgomery College's Germantown Campus.
From the get-go of COVID-19, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) deemed construction to be an "essential business." In turn, hundreds, if not thousands of work sites, have remained open and active across the state of 6.05 million residents. Many of those construction projects have no access to running water and require workers to operate in close quarters where social distancing is difficult to achieve.
"Contractors are kind of taking this carte blanche, like we're essential, show up to work," the Montgomery County employee stated on the condition of anonymity. "Building a new hospital, yes that's essential, but building a new fast food restaurant, not really essential at the moment."
To keep healthy and stay informed, inspectors recently started to compile a list of construction sites with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, the county employee revealed. After all, Montgomery County's Department of Permitting Services continues to inspect commercial buildings.
"Many inspectors are providing their own PPE, their own hand sanitizer. Some guys are using bandannas and latex gloves on inspection sites," the employee added. "I get first responders are the top priority, but our second-tier, front-facing service people don't get a thing."
List of Construction Sites Temporarily Shut Down, Per Montgomery County Employee:
7 On Your Side contacted Montgomery County to confirm if the seven construction sites, or any others, were indeed shut down due to COVID-19 concerns. A spokeswoman stated that although the Department of Permitting Services is keeping tabs on site closures, its list does not delineate which are due to COVID and which are not.
"Permitting Services is tracking construction site closures but only in the sense that then they don't have to send inspectors there to do their regularly scheduled inspections," spokeswoman Mary Anderson stated. "They do not track why the site is closed."
Representatives for three of the seven construction sites individually confirmed the temporary closures. The Willow Manor at Fairland Senior Community did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 7 On Your Side was unable to locate representatives for the three other projects on Blackwell Drive, Executive Boulevard and Manor Road.
More than two weeks ago, two subcontractors left the Marriott job site along Wisconsin Avenue in Downtown Bethesda after experiencing "flu-like symptoms," general contractor Hensel Phelps confirmed. Both individuals later tested positive for COVID-19.
Hensel Phelps stopped work on the reported $600-million project for 14 days, allowing a third-party company ample time to perform a deep cleaning per CDC guidelines.
"The health and safety of all those working on this project is our highest priority. We will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and local and state governments to adapt job site activities and operations during this pandemic," Hensel Phelps said in a written statement.
Hensel Phelps has added more plumbed handwashing and sanitizing stations to the budding office tower, which is scheduled to open by mid-2022. It has also started to clean the site more frequently and is using a "healthcare team" to monitor workers' wellness.
DAVIS Construction confirmed one worker assigned to 909 Rose Avenue at Pike & Rose has tested positive for COVID-19. Last Saturday, the North Bethesda-based company temporarily suspended work on the 200,000+ square foot office tower, which is slated to open in May. It also issued a health alert to "trade partners and stakeholders" on all of its current work sites.
"Upon a thorough investigation, the project site was closed, locked and will remain closed for a 14-day period since an individual that tested positive was last on-site," DAVIS Construction said in a written statement. "Additional site surveillance and security measures were put into place."
On Sunday, an environmental firm performed a deep clean of the entire construction project, using chemicals recommended by the CDC and EPA.
DAVIS Construction has placed "relevant personnel" on a 14-day quarantine. The company is also tracking subcontractors who worked at 909 Rose Avenue to ensure they do not access other DAVIS projects for the foreseeable future.
"DAVIS will continue to monitor the situation, maintain contact with affected personnel and evaluate if further measures need to be taken," the company's statement went on to explain.
On Tuesday, two subcontractors fell ill while working on a construction project inside of the High Technology and Science Center, also known as Globe Hall. A supervisor immediately shut down the worksite until further notice and instructed the two sick workers to schedule COVID-19 tests. Those test results are now pending.
According to Montgomery College Spokesman Marcus Rosano, the construction workers' exposure to college employees was minimal at best.
"The limited public safety personnel still working at the Germantown Campus have had procedures in place to vastly limit any contact with anybody on-site," Rosano explained. "Thus, we have had no MC employees in close personal space with the subcontractors and no MC personnel reporting symptoms of coronavirus."
Earlier this week, Gov. Hogan signed a new executive order, granting local health departments the power to shut down any business, facility or construction site it considers to be unsafe or not practicing social distancing guidelines. On Wednesday, 7 On Your Side asked Montgomery County if it had taken any such action. Officials have not provided an answer to that question.