Protecting Construction Workers from COVID-19 in Austin, Texas

Southern  |  September 8, 2020
Frank Fuentes (left) of the Hispanic Contractors Association de Tejas meets Tzu Chi Austin volunteers to receive donations of PPE. Photo/Fangwen Huang

Written by Fangwen Huang
Translated by Penny Liu
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Austin, Texas is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. The amount of people moving into the city has increased the demand for housing, road construction, retail spaces, public services, and other municipal needs. In order to meet this demand, the booming construction industry has become an important economic sector in Austin and has provided a significant amount of job opportunities.

Sending Love and Support to Construction Sites

Throughout July, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically across Texas. Many construction workers have tested positive, with many going on to infect their families at home, too. Thus, on July 17, 2020, volunteers of Tzu Chi Austin branch office donated 2,000 procedural masks to the Hispanic Contractors Association de Tejas, or HCAT, in the hopes that these masks could help offer more protection to the 300 members in the organization when they go out to work.

As the pandemic continues to surge, mask wearing has become a basic measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. Many companies now regularly provide face masks to their employees to protect them in the workplace. Tzu Chi volunteers in Austin have been donating personal protective equipment, or PPE, to various local organizations in the hopes of protecting as many of their neighbors as possible.

Mask-Wearing in the Sweltering Heat

Tzu Chi volunteers welcome Frank Fuentes, Chairman of HCAT, at the Tzu Chi Austin Service Center. Photo/Fangwen Huang

Worrying about his fellow construction workers’ safety, Frank Fuentes, Chairman of HCAT, immediately contacted Tzu Chi Austin requesting assistance. After initial communication, Frank came to the office to pick up the PPE on July 17. Volunteers met him at the office to not only pass him the goods, but to introduce and deepen his understanding of Tzu Chi.

In order to reduce the infection rates among construction workers, HCAT had already distributed 30,000 masks and 400 gallons of hand sanitizers to construction workers in the area.  They even planned to test 300 workers for COVID-19 the next day, July 18, and planned to distribute the 2,000 masks donated by Tzu Chi Austin.

To further their health and safety measures, HCAT also created a bilingual video educating people on how to prevent the virus, so they will have a better understanding of how to protect themselves and others through the pandemic.

HCAT promotes the free COVID-19 testing event on Facebook, acknowledging Tzu Chi for the helping hand. Photos/Facebook

Daytime temperatures in Austin can rise up well past 100° to 106° degrees. Regardless of the heat, we still remind workers to wear masks. Our organization has tested about 3,000 workers so far, and the infection rate is as high as 15%.

Promoting a Vegetarian Diet

Frank Fuentes of HCAT reads Master Cheng Yen's daily reminder written in Spanish. Photo/Tsang-Bin Wen

During Frank’s visit, Tzu Chi Austin volunteers gained more understanding and a deeper appreciation of these construction workers’ working conditions.  They also took the opportunity to explain the importance of vegetarian diets to Frank and encouraged him to eat one or two vegetarian meals a day.

Volunteers elaborated that eating a vegetarian diet is good for people’s health. Also, because the virus is thought to have emerged from a wet market, going vegetarian would eliminate the need for such facilities and animal consumption practices.

Humans kill roughly 2,443 animals for consumption every second. If everyone treats all living beings with compassion, they explained that this small effort could prevent another pandemic from happening.

Purifying Minds to Eliminate World Calamities

Frank was touched by Tzu Chi’s assistance after the 2017 Mexico Earthquake, which included medical outreaches and school rebuilding in the disaster area. Volunteers had packed the 2,000 masks into 200 envelopes. They were sealed with printed stickers of Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s words in Spanish. After reading aloud the words, “a filthy land is created by a filthy mind; clean up the land to protect the Earth, eat vegetarian meals to purify the mind,” he immediately asked who it was that said them.

A Tzu Chi volunteer and her children pack the masks for HCAT at home and put stickers on the envelopes. Photo/Tsang-Bin Wen
Each envelope contains Tzu Chi volunteers’ love and support. Photo/Fangwen Huang

Though Frank only spent a few brief moments at the Tzu Chi Austin Service Center, volunteers hoped he had received more than the masks.  As volunteers helped him carry the masks to his car, they also gifted him Tzu Chi books and journals and shared a book of Jing Si Aphorisms with him to keep him inspired and calm through the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Tzu Chi volunteers in Austin, Texas, and the rest of the country, are dedicated to offering help to our neighbors who need it most. Support our efforts and ensure we can all get through this together.

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