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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

GCA president says DPHSS directive ‘doesn’t make sense’

(Updated Nov. 16, 20202: 4:41pm)

Pointing out some logical flaws in the Department of Public Health and Social Services’ Covid response strategy, an industry leader questioned the logic of exempting the military sector from the agency’s halt-construction directive.

James Martinez

“This wholesale closure of the industry doesn’t make sense,” said James Martinez, president of the Contractors Association.

The department’s directive, which officially went into effect Saturday, suspended all construction activity on Guam, an action prompted by the detection of Covid clusters at Black Construction and Core Tech International. This is the second construction lockdown since September.

“As you can see, only military projects are allowed to operate during this second pause of the construction industry unless contacted by DPHSS or Department of Defense health authorities,” Martinez said.

In a statement issued later, the Joint Information Center said, "Department of Defense construction activities on island continue to operate within the guidelines of the Department of Public Health and Social Services directive. We are committed to working with DPHSS to ensure all protocols and guidelines are strictly adhered to in order to minimize risk to DoD employees and contractors, and the community."

With a policy all over the place, Martinez said, the department is chasing its tail at this point.

“It’s ironic that DPHSS is targeting contractors with H2B workers and housing facilities, yet most contractors with a foreign labor workforce are the contractors working on military projects, which remain open until the contractor is contacted by DPHSS or DoD health authorities,” he added.

According to DPHSS, the application of its directive to military-affiliated construction activities “shall be coordinated between DPHSS and Department of Defense public health authorities."

DPHSS earlier noted that contractors with H2B workers and their housing facilities were most susceptible to Covid exposure and transmission.

“Before closing an entire industry, DPHSS should concentrate their efforts on businesses that employ H2B workers and provide housing to these workers,” Martinez said.

“Because the (National Defense Authorization Act) has a provision that allows H2B workers on military construction projects, these are the only projects that have H2B workers with very few exceptions on civilian projects,” he added.

Amid the public health emergency restrictions, construction is considered an “essential industry” allowed to operate without interruption until the outbreak at Core Tech and Black Construction.

“It was suggested that only those contractors with positive Covid cases be shut down temporarily for sanitizing, mass testing of all their employees and quarantine if applicable,” Martinez said.” We feel the closure of these businesses is justified to stop the further spread of Covid.”

Core Tech reported 140 Covid positive cases out of nearly 500 employees tested at the Ukudu housing complex in Harmon on Saturday.

“We believe that contractors found with Covid positive cases should do mass testing of all their workforce. Contractors have voluntarily tested their own employees and we encourage others to do so as well,” Martinez said.

DPHSS on Saturday announced that construction companies and contractors on Guam may resume operations “subject to meeting minimum requirements in the DPHSS Contractor Clearance Checklist.

“Based on the previous DPHSS directive and executive order, all contractors in order to resume business must submit an operational and mitigation plan to DPHSS for approval to operate,” Martinez said.

“So contractors have already done their part and submitted their plans since August of this year. GCA Safety and Health Committee is developing a universal plan that can be used by smaller contractor groups who have not submitted a plan and have not reopened for business,” he added.

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