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When You Work In Construction, Social Distancing Isn't Always Possible

NOEL KING, HOST:

This week on the show, we're talking to workers who are considered essential, meaning they cannot stay at home. Chris Wielders (ph) is one of them. He works construction outside Salt Lake City, and he is still going out to sites every day. He says his employer is taking steps to try to protect him.

CHRIS WIELDERS: They want us to maintain our six feet, not congregate in the break area. They have bottles of bleach that we can spray down our trucks before and after with clean rags. That was about as much as they can do.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

But think about this kind of job. Wielders says that sometimes social distancing just is not possible. He has to be near other people to do his work. The other day, this cart they use to transport concrete fell from its place.

WIELDERS: It took four or five of us to push it back up onto the drive, and we're all shoulder to shoulder pushing something that weighs 1,200 pounds. And I just get in my truck, and I'm just like, ugh, I hope I didn't get something (laughter) that's going to be coming home with me.

KING: He's worried about things coming home with him because his wife has a compromised immune system. So he's doing what he can. He's got hand sanitizer in his truck.

GREENE: The company has also minimized the paperwork he deals with so no one is passing around a clipboard and a pen. When he comes home, he is also very careful.

WIELDERS: I change clothes out in the garage, get my work stuff off, then I wash my hands right in the kitchen before I even, you know, see her.

KING: Utah is one of only a few states without a shelter-in-place order for the entire state. But officials in Salt Lake County where he is have told residents to stay home. But they made construction employees essential so they can keep going to work.

GREENE: But for Chris, the work doesn't always feel that way. On the day we reached him, he'd done two jobs.

WIELDERS: I poured some guy's deck for his brand-new pool that he's installing and another guy's patio, which to me aren't critical constructions. I risk bringing home something that could potentially kill my wife or me. And I don't want to die for somebody's pool deck or patio.

GREENE: Chris says he would rather be pouring concrete for a hospital or a research center or learning to make something else, something more useful.

WIELDERS: Ventilators or even marks, I don't even care, something productive that's going to help fight this disease and this virus.

KING: Chris does consider himself lucky, though. His wife was recently laid off, so he's just glad he's still getting paid.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAVES OF STEEL'S "KEEP PAINTING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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