Illustration 60886103 / Kheng Ho To / Dreamstime
Illustration 60886103 Kheng Ho To / Dreamstime
60886103 / Kheng Ho To / Dreamstime
60886103 / Kheng Ho To
Corona Virus Getty Images Final 770

City & State COVID-19 Construction Bans: Different Strokes for Different Folks

April 3, 2020
City & state COVID-19 construction bans confuse contractors.

Electrical contractors, distributors and reps are faced with a confusing local mish-mash of city and state policies on construction projects, where city construction bans are sometimes at odds with state policies over what constitutes an “essential business” under COVID-19 restrictions.

At press-time, Austin, TX, Boston and the state of Pennsylvania appeared to have the most onerous construction bans in place, but even some of those edicts had some confusing clauses that allowed some projects to go on, but banned others or were in conflict with state policies. Below is a sampling of the construction project restrictions across the country. Check with your city or state to get the latest information on what’s allowed in your market.

Austin. The shelter-in-place orders issued by the city and Travis County on March 25 confused contractors because of some loose wording on exactly what constituted an essential business.

According to a March 25 report at www.statesman.com, “The building exceptions outlined in the city’s order include: construction of affordable housing and social services projects; construction that supports essential business and government functions; and construction that’s essential to health and safety during the worldwide coronavirus-triggered public health emergency.”

On March 27, the city said it had a new “administrative process” in place that would “determine whether a project can continue to operate or needs to cease; is an affordable housing project; or needs to continue due to public health and/or safety concerns.”

Boston. Mayor Marty Walsh in Boston shut down virtually all construction projects in the city in mid-March, but the state of Massachusetts still allows construction if contractors meet the “March 25, 2020 Construction Guidance,” which among other things says that prior to starting each shift, each employee will self-certify to their supervisor that they have no signs of a fever or a measured temperature above 100.3 degrees or greater; have not had a cough or trouble breathing within the past 24 hours; have not had close contact with an individual diagnosed with COVID-19; and have not been asked to self-isolate or quarantine by their doctor or a local public health official.

Chicago. A March 21 stay-at-home executive order by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said a construction project was an essential business if it was “required in response to this public health emergency, hospital construction, construction of long-term care facilities, public works construction and housing construction.”

A news report at www.cbslocal.com said one Chicago area union official told his workers that if a job-site wasn’t compliant with CDC and OSHA guidelines, they should alert their local union chapter.

New York. Many types of commercial construction have been deemed to be essential. These projects include health-care and transit (including the LaGuardia Airport and Moynihan train station projects).

Christopher Erikson, business manager for IBEW Local Union No. 3 in New York, provided a succinct summary of the New York State rule on his local’s website: “Governor Cuomo has ordered all non-essential construction to be shut down statewide. In a continuing effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, this has become necessary. This will primarily impact all commercial and most residential construction. We are looking at a minimum of three weeks until April 21st, and it could be extended.

“Essential construction including hospitals, transportation, utilities, and affordable housing will continue. Employers must provide a safe work-site and are subject to $10,000 fines. Be vigilant and protect yourself if you continue to work. Notify the construction desk of unsafe conditions on any job-site.

“This shutdown could affect 60% of our membership or more. The impact on the funds will be considerable, but there is nothing more important than your personal safety and that of your families. We have a number of members currently in the hospital diagnosed with COVID-19 or because of other issues made worse due to COVID-19. Some are in serious conditions and others have been sent home. Unfortunately, at this point we have had at least one member pass and we keep him and all others affected by this in our prayers.

“Our industry will be impacted by this long-term, as revenues to the MTA and the Port Authority dry up, which will delay anticipated projects that were in the works.”

Pennsylvania. On March 16, Governor Tom Wolf closed all non-life-sustaining businesses, including all construction except for emergency situations. The ban is expected to delay the intended start date of April 23 for Pittsburgh’s new billion-dollar airport. A March 22 post at www.nbcphiladelphia.com said crews are rushing to complete a new hospital tower in the University City section of downtown Philadelphia that will provide an additional 119 hospital beds. The Penn Medicine project is expected to be completed by mid-April.

San Francisco. The city’s ban on many types of construction projects unless they are considered an essential business hit larger contractors hard, but construction of affordable housing, as well as a surprising number of other types of residential construction, is still permitted, according a construction update posted on March 31 at www.sf.gov.