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Austin is tracking 36 COVID-19 clusters in the general population—more than half among construction workers
(Austin Public Health) (Graph by Emma Freer/Flourish)


Austin Public Health is tracking 36 non-institutional clusters of COVID-19, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told the City Council earlier today. Of those clusters, 19 are among construction workers, four are at food service or grocery locations, and three are among building cleaning and maintenance services.


Testing conducted at two construction sites earlier this month revealed that COVID-19 exposure is greater among construction workers than the general population. According to Dr. Escott's presentation, nearly 8% of workers tested were positive, compared to a positive rate of around 3.4% for those tested through APH's public enrollment system.

In addition to these clusters, Dr. Escott said workers may be resistant to being tested—either on-site or at community clinics—due to fear of criminal repercussions related to immigration status or a positive result leading to the loss of a paycheck. "This is a significant barrier," he added.

Dr. Escott said another concern is varying positive test rates—which correlate with higher hospitalization and fatality rates—among different racial and ethnic groups. For example, Hispanic and Latino residents who have been tested through the public enrollment system have a positive rate of around 8.6%, more than double that of the overall population. White residents, on the other hand, have a positive rate of around 1%.

Dr. Escott attributed this variability to long-standing disparities in healthcare access and other social services.

Local officials are working to engage construction companies and other employers in partnerships to encourage employee testing, Dr. Escott said, but he didn't provide any additional information about these efforts.

City Council will also take up a resolution Thursday that would direct the city manager to establish a strategy for high-risk workers to prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

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