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UNCG faculty, students complain about unmasked workers from site of June COVID outbreak

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Featured photo: Ian McDowell observed that three of the men in this photo entered and ordered food unmasked

Shortly after noon on Oct. 27, four workers from the Nursing and Instructional Building construction site at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro crossed Tate Street, entered a restaurant and ordered food without wearing masks. Over the next 40 minutes, five more workers from the site did the same.

During the next two days, this writer observed 14 more unmasked workers from Rodgers Construction and DPR Construction enter and order from three different Tate Street restaurants specializing in subs, pizza and chicken wings. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday on the university strip, the vast majority of people not wearing masks on Tate Street are construction subcontractors.

Multiple students and faculty members with classes or offices near the construction site have told YES! Weekly that, in the words of one student, “every single unmasked person I see on campus is from that site, and I don’t mean just when they’re working, but when they’re walking around other university buildings and on sidewalks close to students.”

A tenured faculty member who asked to remain anonymous gave YES! Weekly the following statement:

“Throughout the summer and fall, I have observed construction site workers walking unmasked outside of the work zones and on the surrounding streets. It is difficult to stay socially distanced in this area of campus, so the lack of face coverings has made me especially reluctant to frequent the businesses on Tate Street or to spend any time near that section (the nursing building) of campus.”

As previously reported, in June, a UNCG employee told YES! Weekly that there were allegedly 36 positive cases of COVID-19, which had doubled in less than a week after the Greensboro News & Record reported a COVID-19 outbreak on May 29.

During the June outbreak in the nursing building site, DPR Construction spokesperson Ro Norman did not answer YES! Weekly’s questions about how many were infected and whether the company required workers to wear masks on Tate Street and in the campus areas surrounding the job site. Instead, Norman provided the following statement:

Cloth face coverings are required on our job site and all DPR Construction job sites. Additionally, we were notified of COVID-19 positive cases. We continue to follow CDC guidelines as we gather additional information.

On Oct. 30, YES! Weekly sent UNCG’s Eden Bloss, senior director of University Communications, the statement from the faculty member, as well as this writer’s observations over the previous to two days. Bloss responded with the following email, on which she carbon copied Norman.

Thank you for reaching out. Safety protocols are paramount to keep our campus safe, and we fully expect our subcontractors to follow the parameters UNC Greensboro has outlined for face coverings, social distancing and hand washing. I understand they have implemented proactive health monitoring on site. I’m bringing in the communication lead for Rodgers|DPR so she is aware and can assist us.

Norman did not respond to YES! Weekly, but on Nov. 3, Bloss sent the following email, on which Norman had also been carbon copied on.

Thank you again for sharing this with us. All of us enjoy supporting the local businesses on Tate Street, and we want the community to support them as well, and feel safe. And yes, masks are required on the UNCG campus, and we continue to reinforce the importance of the 3Ws — Wear, Wash, Wait — on a daily basis. We are being very clear with our faculty, staff, and students about the importance of mask-wearing on our campus and in our community, and we expect our partners to take this equally seriously. This includes contractors and subcontractors. Safety is a team effort. Our Facilities and Construction leaders addressed the matter directly early this week with the job site construction managers, individuals and the companies they work for. They have doubled down on their efforts and communication around the importance of wearing face coverings at and around the work site, extending to the businesses along Tate Street. Ro Norman is with the construction company, and is copied on this message. We also discussed the delivery of meals to the site to support safety practices.

On Nov. 5, between 11:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., this writer counted 23 construction workers walking across Tate Street to have lunch. Everyone wore a mask, although none donned their face coverings before they were either in the middle of Tate Street or, in nine cases, just outside the doors of East Coast Wings, Jimmy John’s and Sam’s Grill.

Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.

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