The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shut down cities across the world and has driven the entire American workforce into two categories: essential and non-essential.
Those who are deemed “essential” in the U.S. are the only people who should still physically be reporting to work. Within the development industry, however, there has been confusion over whether construction can or should be considered essential during the unusual pandemic circumstances.
ConstructConnect has created an interactive map to serve as a resource to understand where construction has been deemed essential.
Other state governors have drawn a line between what is essential construction and non-essential construction and ordered for non-essential construction to cease, but the same has not yet been done for Georgia or Athens-Clarke County.
Athens resident Meredith Wible considers construction essential in some instances, but doesn’t recognize the construction she’s witnessed in Athens necessary during this time.
“They are building a complex behind where I live and there is also a huge building being built on [UGA] campus,” she said. “At both sites, there are countless workers from 5 a.m. to the late afternoon. They are out there every day. None are wearing masks or distancing,” says Wible.
“We haven’t even really slowed down much,” says on-site construction worker Kevin Bowlden.
While the state hasn’t limited construction, it’s possible that suppliers will be shut down, which is something Bowlden’s general contractor is prepared for. He says the general contractor has been stockpiling materials on the construction site “just in case” since their contract will not allow for a recoup if the job site is shut down.
Contractors are reporting cancellations of upcoming projects and shortages of equipment and materials, forcing approximately 40 percent of contractors to furlough or terminate job site workers, according to an online survey released April 10 by the Associated General Contractors of America.
“Our electrical subcontractor is missing anywhere from four to eight guys every day, framing and drywall guys are down by about 50% (almost 40 guys), and every other trade has taken hits,” Bowlden says.
Bowlden is in charge of quality assurance for civil, structural, and architectural construction. His job involves constantly being around different parts of the construction site and being in direct contact with different crews throughout the day.
God help us if someone comes down with this because it’s going to spread like wildfire on our site,” says Bowlden.
But, some construction executives argue that implementing full work halts are “too drastic.”
“Given the precautions already in place, halting construction will do little to protect the health and safety of construction workers,” Associated General Contractors of America CEO Stephen Sandherr said in a statement March 17. “These measures have the potential to bankrupt many construction firms who have contractual obligations to stay on schedule or risk incurring significant financial penalties.
“Construction firms are already acting to ensure the safety and health of their employees in the face of the coronavirus outbreak,” the statement continues. “These new measures, which include increased hygiene and halting group gatherings of staff, are in addition to the fact construction workers already wear protective equipment, including gloves that will help protect them and their co-workers.”
Health care professionals across the globe plead for people who can stay in their homes, to do so and for non-essential construction, like office buildings, retail and hotels, to cease. Workers are putting themselves a higher risk for COVID-19 and perhaps are taking it home with him or her from the job site to their families.
Korey Elliott is a junior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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