Utility Workers and the Virus

GUEST COLUMN

By Vic Schoenbach

This morning when I was out for a jog, I passed a major utilities upgrade project on Ephesus Church Road in Chapel Hill, between Churchill Drive and Pinehurst Drive. At the corner of Churchill and Ephesus I saw a group of about a half-dozen workers digging a large hole, with shovels.

They were fairly close together, not wearing masks, and breathing hard. I’ve attached a photo that I have edited slightly to give some degree of privacy, but I did not change the mask region of the
faces. One of the workers directing traffic down the road told me that they are employed by Epic Labor (if I heard him correctly).

Although the men are outside, and it is clearly difficult to wear masks when one is having to work in that way (in 80+ degree heat, high humidity, etc.), I wondered what consideration if any has been given to their protection — or if this is another meat-packing plant type situation.

I attempted to call the Orange County Health Department, without success (though I did leave a message on the voicemail for the assistant to the director).

I assume that what I observed is a state-wide issue, and I don’t know whether infection rates have been higher than expected among utility workers.

Vic Schoenbach is a Chapel Hill resident and an emeritus associate professor of epidemiology at UNC.

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