Two construction sites shut down as workers get Covid-19

Work at Moynihan and part of LaGuardia Airport temporarily stopped

Skanska temporarily halted construction at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B and Moynihan Train Hall due to workers with Covid-19 (Credit: LaGuardia B and Anuja Shakya)
Skanska temporarily halted construction at part of LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B and Moynihan Train Hall due to workers with Covid-19 (Credit: LaGuardia B and Anuja Shakya)

Construction has been temporarily halted at two major infrastructure projects, including part of the multibillion-dollar overhaul of LaGuardia Airport, after workers were diagnosed with Covid-19.

Work on the western concourse at LaGuardia’s Terminal B was shut down until March 30 after one worker tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the joint venture between Skanska and the Walsh Group that is working on the project.

Construction was immediately halted “on the affected section of the site for disinfection and deep cleaning,” a statement said.

“The worker is in self-quarantine, and outreach to any others potentially affected has occurred,” it continued. “We have directed potentially affected workers to follow a 14-day self-quarantine period from the date of last contact.”

Replacement of Terminal B is part of an $8 billion redevelopment of the smaller of the city’s two airports. The area of the airport under construction is not open to the public.

Work at Moynihan Train Hall, which is undergoing a $1.6 billion redevelopment led by the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, also stopped after a worker there became ill. Skanska, a contractor on that project as well, indicated that work was shut down last week and is expected to commence next week. Representatives for the Empire State Development Corp., Related and Vornado did not return requests for comment.

Some other projects have also been affected. Commercial Observer reported that Extell Development shut down construction at Central Park Tower in response to the pandemic, though the company is continuing work on its other projects.

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all employees of non-essential businesses to work from home but exempted construction as “essential,” along with healthcare facilities, grocery stores and news organizations.

City Council members Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander and the Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have repeatedly called for a narrower definition of “essential” construction, saying the only kind of work that should continue is on hospitals and health care facilities, transit, utilities, public infrastructure, supportive housing and homeless shelters, as well as emergency repairs.

On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned whether luxury condo projects should be exempt but noted that the city is deferring to the state on the issue.

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A subcontractor in the city, who requested anonymity for fear of backlash from clients, pointed out that it is difficult for construction companies to obtain certain protective gear, which is in short supply as the healthcare industry scrambles for what is available.

Vice President Michael Pence urged construction companies last week to donate their protective gear to hospitals in need.

The governor announced Monday that the city is expected to receive 169,880 N95 masks, 430,850 surgical masks, 176,750 gloves and 72,561 gowns. Cuomo reported Tuesday that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in New York has swelled to more than 25,000.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Real Estate Board of New York issued guidelines for construction managers on how to minimize risk on construction sites and what actions to take when a worker falls ill.

The groups are encouraging social distancing where possible, to help ensure workers are not, for instance, crowding into construction elevators. They are also calling for more entrances on construction sites, said Gary LaBarbera, president of the council, an umbrella group for construction unions.

He said it is important to keep not just infrastructure and emergency-related construction going but also private development sites. He said winding down work at a single site can take weeks, and a shuttered development site can pose safety threats to the public.

“Construction is a very complicated industry,” LaBarbera said.

He added that union benefit and pension funds rely on steady revenue from employers. “For us, it’s important to be able to maintain medical benefits for the membership,” he said.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel