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Construction, businesses face twin threats of COVID-19 and bad economy

There have been 26 workers at that Augusta construction site that have tested positive for the coronavirus, COVID-19.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine CDC is still investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 at a construction site in Augusta, where Cianbro is partnering with another company to build a new Maine Veterans Home. There have now been 26 workers at that site tested positive for the virus. 

The Augusta construction site has been temporarily shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak --the first at a construction site in Maine since the pandemic began. 

Unlike some other states, Maine never shut down construction, and it has continued as an essential business. Matt Marks, of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, says companies have had to make lots of changes including social distancing, strict hygiene, and smaller workgroups at the job sites, and those have altered the way people work. 

“It’s a new challenge, but what this really means is you take a group of people who work as a team. One of the things that attract people to construction is you like to have on that team and have that camaraderie with your peers. There’s a lot of new, younger folks and older veterans, working together, and this (distancing) is different. So this requires constant modification and reminders this is a new challenge.”

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At the Cianbro job site in Augusta, the Maine CDC says a number of workers had come from other states in the northeast. Essential workers don’t need to quarantine, but Dr. Nirav Shah said finding the source of the outbreak will be hard.

"Many workers may have been congregating outside the site so we don’t know if the site is where it occurred, those are the kind of questions we’re trying to answer,” Dr. Shah told reporters.

Matt Marks says as concerning as COVID-19 protection is, Maine construction companies face an equally worrisome problem: the declining economy. Average work hours have begun to decline, he says, and some of the work has gone away.

“Now we’re starting to see jobs halted, whether it be the owner not seeing the job relevant to the economy, or municipal projects, not knowing if the revenue is coming in, (and) that is increasing every day.”

Maines construction business has spent a decade recovering from the 2009 recession, which took away about 10,000 construction jobs. Matt Marks says the state had just hit the 30,000 job milestone for the first time in years and is worried those gains could be lost.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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