Give construction workers immediate COVID-19 tests, boss says

The president of a Victoria masonry business is calling for construction workers with virus symptoms to be tested immediately, given that sector has been deemed an essential service.

Rob Tournour, of Rob Tournour Masonry Ltd., said Wednesday that workers who feel unwell should be tested.

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If the construction sector is mandated to be working, and as a sub-contractor who has been reminded of contractual obligations, “then it only makes sense to me that any worker … if they are feeling that they might have symptoms, and if they have been on a job site where there’s been other workers, they must be able to access testing right away,” Tournour said.

Tournour said he admires the hard work being carried out by government and health officials, but questioned whether official numbers of COVID-19 cases represent the actual number of people with the virus if others with symptoms cannot access testing.

One of Tournour’s employees in a team of three stayed home Monday because the man’s wife felt ill. On Tuesday, the worker said his wife had flu-like symptoms and he was running a temperature. The worker has remained at home.

“We immediately informed the job site and we instructed the other two crew members that he worked with last week to cease work immediately until such time as we can learn if the sick worker will be tested for COVID,” Tournour said. The worker called the government’s 811 HealthLink B.C. advice line and was told he will not be tested and should self-monitor and stay isolated, Tournour said.

As a result, the other two workers are now isolating for two weeks as well in case their co-worker has COVID-19.

All three workers had followed physical-distancing protocols, Tournour said.

He said he has contacted B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix, Premier John Horgan and the Vancouver Island Construction Association about the matter.

Tournour’s company was established 24 years ago. He normally has between 45 and 55 employees working at any time. On March 14, he laid off his workers and shut down work for 14 days.

Since then, he has brought back some workers. About 14 are now on the job. “But they are all on sites where they can be on very small crews,” Tournour said.

B.C. has said not everyone will be tested. Those with symptoms can call 811 and, if deemed necessary, will be referred to a testing location. On its website, HealthLink B.C. states: “Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. If you have no symptoms, mild symptoms or are a returning traveller and isolating at home, you do not require a test.”

Rory Kulmala, chief executive of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, said: “Testing is a tool that the government and our provincial health officer is using, I would say, judiciously. They define the protocol of how and when it is to be used.

“It’s not just a concern that the construction industry has. It’s every industry. Everybody wants testing, but I think the way the testing is being used is [that] not everybody can be tested.”

Typically, the testing is being reserved for the well-defined cases, Kulmala said.

Corporate employers are working hard to establish protocols on jobs sites that must be enforced to protect workers. Kulmala said There is also personal responsibility of all individuals to follow safe practices, such as standing two metres apart and wearing a mask if needed.

Members of the public have raised concerns about some job sites where they worry that distancing is not being carried out.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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