By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday that 10 percent of Public Works employees have tested positive for COVID-19, which has contributed to significant delays in municipal lawn cutting and other work by the department.
The combination of 17 days of rain in July and those positive COVID tests “has caused significant delays in our services,” said the mayor.
News of those cases among city employees comes just as Birmingham brings mandatory masking back to municipal buildings, following Alabama’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and meager vaccination rate.
“The last few months have been extremely difficult for Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “Uncontrollable weather conditions such as rain and extreme heat have created several challenges for DPW working to collect household trash and cut overgrown lots. But our crews remain committed. There may be some delays in the day, but we ask the public to remain patient because the work will get done.”
During the month of July, Birmingham received 17 days of rain. The heavy rainfall equated to 8.4 inches, compared to last year’s average of 4.8 inches in July.
“When it is raining, we cannot cut. When areas are too wet after a rain we cannot cut. If they’re slightly wet we can cut, but the moisture makes for a slower process,” said Joshua Yates, director of the Department of Public Works. “Rain also makes the grass grow quicker and hinders our ability to stay on schedule.”
The city also said the department is being challenged by this summer’s extreme heat. “We know how our citizens feel when they try to cut grass or participate in outdoor activities in this heat,” Yates said. “Our workers are facing similar challenges and that is a concern.” Heat not only affects DPW employees, but it also impacts the performance of the department’s machinery, Yates added.
According to the city, a number of DPW workers have either tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to a positive individual and are undergoing tracing and testing protocols.
“It is important that our citizens know that despite the challenges, we have a plan in place,” Woodfin said. “All we ask is that our citizens allow us a little grace during this process as we work to continue to serve the public.’’
If the trajectory of cases continues upward among city workers and residents, Woodfin said the city may go back to more drastic measures than mandatory masking in city buildings.
“We feel a lot of our behavior is going backward. Masks are being implemented, and other measures might have to be taken,” he said, “but we don’t want to have to take those measures…You may have to go from shaking hands and hugs to pounding and elbows only.”
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birminghamal.gov contributed to this pos