In numerous major North American cities, the millions upon millions of people belonging to the so-called “non-essential workforce” have either been furloughed, laid off, or are holed up working remotely from home for the unforeseeable future due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While these sent-home workers comprise a vast number of industries, the status of workers in one specific sector, construction, is a bit trickier to pin down.
In some cities, including Boston, all construction projects, both commercial and residential, were put on hold indefinitely days ago with the exception of things like emergency work and repairs to essential public facilities. Elsewhere, including in Los Angeles, it would appear that many construction sites are still open as “construction projects needed for essential infrastructure, such as building housing” are exempted from Los Angeles County’s newly established stay-at-home order.
“Everything so far looks good,” L.A. and Santa Monica property developer Neil Shekhter told the Real Deal in a March 18 article. “Most contractors don’t work in close proximity to each other. If you go into a construction site, you will see one guy working in one room. So I see that as a positive.”
Because the status of construction projects shut down due to the spread of COVID-19 can vary wildly from state-to-state and city-to-city, Construction Dive has put together a helpful map identifying major individual construction projects that have been halted across the country along with with city- or county-wide shutdowns.
Writes Construction Dive:
“While this page would otherwise feature updates on non-roadway and nonresidential mega-projects valued at around $1B or more, it’s unlikely we’ll see many changes to these projects that are unrelated to the pandemic for the foreseeable future. Any noteworthy projects that do take a stance on continuing work in areas where others have been shut down will also be updated, but not included on the coronavirus closure’s section of the map.”
While the map isn’t overcrowded quite yet, it’s not entirely unrealistic to think that in the coming days and weeks it will be filled with frozen construction sites in a wide range of geographic locales. Projects that do appear on the map include halted expansion and renovation projects at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida; a shutdown of work at a “multibillion-dollar cracker plant” in Beaver County, Pennsylvania; and the shutdown of all commercial construction projects across the San Francisco Bay Area.
As mayors and governors scramble to shield all segments of the population from the deadly and highly infectious COVID-19 with little or no direction from the federal government, there has been some pushback from industry leaders in cities where work has fully or partially come grinding to a halt.
“The safety of all workers is critical, but I think that we have to be very careful to shut down,” Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, recently told Bisnow in response to Boston’s total shutdown. “A lot of that construction is for people who are going to need services and support in the months to come as things start reopening.”
Noting that fully stopping construction in Boston could impede the city in preparing for future natural disasters, Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, also told Bisnow that construction workers are already largely prepared to work in the midst of a pandemic considering the protective clothing that they’re required to wear while on-site.
As of this writing, construction projects are continuing full-steam ahead in New York City. However, some city leaders—among them are New York City Council members Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams—are urging Mayor de Blasio to enact a rule that would temporarily curtail all commercial and residential commercial construction projects. Like with Boston, there’d be exceptions for crucial infrastructural work, emergency repairs, and the like.
“Construction is a core component of New York City’s economy, and this is a drastic and painful call,” wrote Menchaca, Lander, and Williams in a recent letter to de Blasio. “At this urgent moment, however, it is necessary as part of our social distancing policy, to slow the spread of the virus, give our health care system a chance to meet the dire need that is growing, and save lives.”
Industry leaders including Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association, have called on both city leaders and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to categorize construction sites as an “essential” businesses that would remain open along with banks, pharmacies, medical facilities, and grocery stores during a shelter-in-place mandate.