UPDATE: May 18: Some construction activities can begin today in Boston, the first major U.S. city to halt work during the coronavirus outbreak.
Outdoor activities such as steel erection, roofing and foundational work can restart on permitted projects that have a COVID-19 safety plan as well as a signed safety affidavit, according to a notice from Mayor Martin Walsh. Essential construction work on schools, healthcare facilities and small residential projects, which has been allowed since the March 16 halt, will continue.
Starting May 26, the city will permit all essential construction to resume. This incremental approach “will provide the time necessary to allow complex, large-scale development an opportunity to educate their workforce, safely remobilize and implement their site-specific safety plan," Boston Chief of Operations Patrick Brophy said in a letter.
The city is offering coronavirus testing for construction workers via a partnership with Tufts Medical Center, he added.
- Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has ordered construction projects in the city to be shut down for at least the next two weeks in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has stricken 33 of the city’s residents as of Tuesday morning.
- All projects must be stopped and the work zones secured, the mayor said during a press conference, with the exception of emergency projects such as roadwork and gas hookups. Boston trade unions supported Walsh’s move, citing health and safety concerns. “This is a worldwide pandemic and our public health community has made clear that social distancing is the only way to combat this virus,” said Brian Doherty, general agent of Building Trades Unions, an umbrella organization of the city's unions.
- In reaction, Associated General Contractors of America CEO Stephen E. Sandherr issued a statement today arguing that shutdowns "will do more harm than good for construction workers, community residents and the economy."
The city will reassess the situation after the two-week span, Walsh said, adding that shutting down work sites was a difficult decision to make. “Construction is the core of our economy,” he said.
Walsh’s announcement calls into question whether other jurisdictions will follow suit and enact construction site shutdowns. Some city leaders seem to be considering it while others are not.
Yesterday, San Francisco imposed some of the strictest shutdown regulations in the country, ordering all residents of San Francisco city and county to shelter in place and shutting down all “nonessential” businesses and services until at least April 7.
The order specifies that all businesses and government agencies must “cease nonessential operations at physical locations in the county" and bans all nonessential gatherings of any number of individuals and all nonessential travel.
Housing construction is permitted to continue, along with work on various forms of "essential infrastructure," the San Francisco Business Times reported. Office construction is not addressed.
In another hard-hit metropolitan area, New York City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca has called for a moratorium on construction work across the city. “We are putting workers in danger,” he tweeted.
Brad Lander, the Council’s deputy leader for policy, took to social media to show his support for medical facility construction, but not other projects.
“It is essential right now to build new hospital capacity,” Lander tweeted. “It is NOT (sic) essential right now to build new condos.”
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said yesterday at a press conference that she was not, at the time, considering a construction shutdown for the nation’s capital, and that workers should try to maintain six feet of distance between each other.
Construction firms are already acting to ensure the safety and health of their employees such as wearing protective equipment, including gloves, Sandherr said.
“Given the precautions already in place, halting construction will do little to protect the health and safety of construction workers. But it will go a long way in undermining economic vitality by depriving millions of workers of the wages they will need over the coming days," he said. "At the same time, these measures have the potential to bankrupt many construction firms who have contractual obligations to stay on schedule or risk incurring significant financial penalties.
In addition, he said, halting construction projects will undermine ongoing and future recovery efforts in regions hit by natural disasters, and will also undermine any future efforts to expand hospital capacity.
In the event that construction is halted in a particular area, Sandherr urged project owners to consider continuing scheduled payments to contractors as a down payment for work to be completed on the project.
"These payments will help mitigate some of the potential economic impacts of construction shutdowns," he said.
In other association news, Associated Builders and Contractors has announced the postponement of its annual
convention, which was scheduled for next week in Nashville, Tennessee. It will will take place August 17-19 at the original venue of Music City Center in Nashville.
ABC will refund registration fees for those who cannot attend the rescheduled event, according to a statement.