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The South Florida Roundup

Should South Florida Construction Sites Stay Open During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Matias Ocner
Miami Herald
Construction work continues across South Florida as other nonessential businesses have been ordered to shut down.

Many businesses have closed to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Local governments and the state are allowing some essential services to remain open. That includes grocery stores, pharmacies and other places needed to keep cities and towns running.

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In South Florida one major industry has been spared from closing: construction. Building continues, and inspections in some areas have been suspended.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke about the issue with two local real estate developers. Sergio Pino, president and founder of Century Homebuilders Group in Miami, called on the industry to shut down altogether. They were joined by Jose Gonzalez, head of the South Florida Builders Association and executive vice president for business development at the Florida East Coast Industries.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: Sergio, you were the first large developer in Miami-Dade County to close a construction site. Two workers tested positive for COVID-19. Why'd you make that call?

SERGIO PINO: In my opinion, it was the right thing to do. And not only those two people tested positive in our project, but more and more people are testing positive every single day. This morning [Friday], I spoke to all of my subcontractors, and they have people getting tested and people who are tested positive, not only laborers who worked at our projects, but they work in other projects, too. And it just doesn't make sense. I never thought I'd be finding myself doing this, trying to convince him that this is this is not too much to ask, to put the industry on hold for 10 working days and then we'll find out who has it, who doesn't have it.

But you haven't had much luck convincing your fellow builders, have you?

PINO: Not really. But this has to come from the large developers, and it also has to come from the mayor and from the governor. At the end of the day, I don't see what is essential about our business.

Are you calling for the governor to be explicit and put a moratorium on private construction in Florida?

PINO: Totally. For 10 working days. 14 days, that's the time that you need to know if you're OK, if you have it, if you don't have it. Half an hour ago, we just found out that sales manager who we buy doors from got the virus. Now, the whole office where he works, they have to close out to go home. It doesn't make sense. This is not going to work.

Jose, you just heard Sergio Pino essentially say he would support a statewide 10-day moratorium on private construction. The mayor of Miami-Dade County says as long as the workers are six feet apart, everything's fine. How about it from the South Florida Builders Association?

JOSE GONZALEZ: From our standpoint, we have been working with our elected officials and everybody in the chain of command, from the CDC down, receiving those guidelines. Homeland Security deemed construction nationwide as an essential industry. It's because construction touches every facet of our lives, whether it's from preparing homes to hospitals that need beds urgently to industrial buildings that are preparing for companies that essentially supply our community. Construction has a hand in all of that.

And what we've done is we've merged with our other [construction trade] associations and we've gone ahead and created a pledge, first of all, and taken that from from the protocols that were given by health experts. The pledge talks about practices in safe social distancing, which is the key thing we keep hearing from all the professionals and how you do that on job sites.

The transcript of this interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Correction: During the broadcast of the April 3, 2020 episode of the South Florida Roundup, WLRN reported that there were more than a dozen people suffering from the coronavirus on board two cruise ships that docked Thursday at Port Everglades in Fort Laudedale. According to a cruise line spokesperson, as of 4:51 p.m., Friday afternoon, there were 11 COVID-19 tests given for both ships. Nine of those results were positive. We regret the error.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.