Salt Lake County sees manufacturing, retail, construction workers getting caught in COVID-19 outbreaks

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Signs encouraging social distancing are displayed due to the ongoing battle against COVID-19 as crews continue their work in the first phase of construction of the Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

They’re the occupations that make America run — jobs in manufacturing, retail, construction, transportation and food service.

In Salt Lake County, they’re also the jobs that have gotten people sick. New data released by the county health department shows the workplaces that have had the most outbreaks — defined as having two or more cases within 14 days.

As of Wednesday, manufacturing workers have been the hardest hit, according to the data. There have been 610 cases of the coronavirus among workers in what’s termed miscellaneous manufacturing — typically consumer goods — across 96 workplaces.

Food manufacturing also has been impacted, with 312 cases across 46 work sites. Meanwhile, there have been 101 outbreaks at restaurants and bars, totaling 341 infected servers, cooks custodial staff and other employees.

Retail stores have been at the forefront of the debate over mask mandates and who will enforce them. The Salt Lake County data shows how many of those workers have gotten sick, too — 436 workers across 88 locations.

Dede Vilven, an epidemiologist at the Salt Lake County Health Department, said she hopes residents will see the data and realize the need to take precautions.

“If they decide, ‘I want to go shopping in the mall today to get a new outfit,’” Vilven said, “take your mask with you. Take hand sanitizer because you want to protect yourself and people working.”

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

The new workplace outbreak data covers about 3,000 infections. Salt Lake County has had about 24,000 cases total.

There are some important occupations missing from the new data. Salt Lake County has not provided numbers on how many teachers, hospital and nursing home workers have gotten infected. Vilven said those figures might be provided later.

The new page on the county health department’s dashboard does have a column for “health care and social assistance,” but Vilven said that reflects settings such as doctor offices and dental clinics.

Still, the data illustrates which work-away-from-home laborers have fared the worst. Another group that has suffered are construction workers.

A lot of construction work is done indoors, which has less ventilation to disperse droplets than the outdoors. Vilven said contact tracing with construction employees who have contracted the virus has revealed many of them carpool — either to and from home or on a shuttle taking them between a parking lot and a job site.

“They carpooled together,” Vilven said, “and one person gets it, and next thing you know everyone who was in that van or that bus” gets infected.

(Photo courtesy Karen Valenzuela) Julio Sanchez-Cervantes died May 13, 2020, from COVID-19.

Julio Sanchez-Cervantes was living in West Valley City and working on a crew constructing condos in Park City when he began to show symptoms of the virus, his family has said. Three others on the construction crew then got sick. So did the sister and brother-in-law with whom Sanchez-Cervantes was living.

Sanchez-Cervantes died of the virus May 13 at age 50. His sister, Judith Martinez, died June 25 at age 69. COVID-19 outbreaks among construction workers also threatened to delay the opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport.

The trend map for workplace outbreaks in Salt Lake County looks much like that for statewide infections. The outbreaks peaked in June and have been slowly declining since Salt Lake County instituted a mask mandate June 25.