Gov. Jay Inslee’s order allowing some construction work to restart amid the coronavirus pandemic drew a mix of reactions within the building industry — from triumph to trepidation and frustration.
Friday’s announcement will allow the return of some work on building projects in progress that were halted in the governor’s stay-at-home order first issued March 23.
“It’s a big relief, obviously,” said George Schuchart, owner and CEO of midsize commercial builder Schuchart Construction. But Schuchart said he’s not sure how his company will be able to implement all of the safety guidelines mandated by the new order on the dozen or so projects it plans to reopen next week.
“We don’t know how this is going to affect productivity,” he said. “Social-distancing requirements mean there are things we just won’t be able to do.”
In Thurston County, Todd Hansen, owner of residential builder Hansen Construction, said his 16-person crew would “absolutely do our best to comply” on four stalled projects he plans to restart next week. But, he said, he’s concerned “we will fail to comply because we don’t fully understand all the regulation.”
The requirement to have a COVID-19 supervisor — part of the new, 30-point safety plan for construction projects — at job sites of more than seven people, for instance, baffled Hansen. “I don’t even know what that person would need to do,” he said. Rather than risk noncompliance, he said he’ll ensure no more than seven people are on the job at a time.
Meanwhile, a worker on a condominium project in downtown Seattle said he felt it’s too early to begin letting construction workers back on the job site.
The worker, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, doesn’t believe it will be possible to follow safety measures, particularly in high-rise buildings.
His project has been stalled for the past month but will reopen in the coming week, said the worker.
“My crew alone is going to be 14 people,” he said. “In my mind, that increases my risk factor by 14.”
In a statement, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville called Inslee’s order “a positive move.”
But Schoesler said the governor should go further and open other businesses that could be considered low-risk for spreading the virus.
“This is a positive move, and the governor should follow it up with quick action on recommendations to let people like auto dealers and landscapers and others return to their low-risk livelihoods,” said Schoesler, who along with other Republican leaders released a plan earlier this month to reopen such businesses.
Schoesler also suggested Inslee lift the temporary ban on recreational fishing. The governor has said that he could relax some restrictions on outdoor recreation in the coming days.
Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, applauded Inslee’s decision and said the state should continue figuring out how to get people working again.
“We need to continue doing everything we can to defeat this virus while also working to safely get people back to work and beginning the long process of rebuilding our economy,” Johnson said in a statement. “As many as 1 million Washingtonians are expected to be seeking unemployment insurance by next week, illustrating the enormous challenge facing our state.”