In his Tuesday press conference, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will expedite infrastructure projects as a focus of its plan for economic recovery. He specifically mentioned the new Penn Station and LaGuardia projects, saying that not only does the state need to create jobs, with commuter and air passenger volume down, this is the perfect time to take on those projects with limited disruption.
Nonessential construction and manufacturing can resume today in the Mid-Hudson region of New York as Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster counties enter Phase I of reopening after the ordered shutdown to attempt to contain the novel coronavirus.
In Phase I, nonessential construction and manufacturing can resume along with wholesale businesses, retail for curbside or in-store pickup and agriculture, forestry and fishing. All businesses are required to follow new public health guidelines and have safeguards in place. Social distancing must be adhered to where possible and masks worn, as well as following more stringent cleaning and hygiene protocols.
Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties will enter Phase I tomorrow.
Officials will be watching the number of positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths closely. If the numbers stay on track and any outbreak is contained through contact tracing and isolation, the regions could enter Phase II in about two weeks. Testing facilities are now open across the mid-Hudson region and Long Island.
The PAUSE order limiting which construction sites and businesses can be open remains in effect in New York City where the needed metrics for reopening have not yet been met. There is no estimated date for the five boroughs to enter Phase I but the mayor has said he hopes it can happen early- to mid-June.
As governors begin the slow, phased process of easing stay-at-home restrictions and allowing businesses to open, the construction projects that are currently operating in New York City provide a preview of the what sites will look like in New York and surrounding states in the near future.
At jobs where developers and contractors are adjusting quickly and attempting to meet new guidelines, workers are wearing masks, even on breaks, and adhering to social distancing rules of six feet between people throughout the day. There are more handwashing stations and tools are being disinfected and not shared among workers. When deliveries arrive, the driver is not getting out of the vehicle.
In some places, employees’ temperatures are checked when they arrive at the site, and construction workers are being told to stay home if they aren’t feeling well.
City inspectors are expected to stop at sites frequently to confirm contractors are sticking to the rules.
There is even the possibility of a drastic change in work hours. According to the New York Times, “Representatives of labor groups and contractor companies are pushing the city to permit 24-hour construction at some locations to reduce the number of laborers on site at any one time.”
Over the weekend, governor Andrew Cuomo said that construction and manufacturing jobs that could follow the health guidelines would be among the first sectors of business to start up again in Phase I of the re-opening plan as New York–as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut–try to get people back to work in hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over for the area. For New York, it will begin upstate after May 15. The governor said he will extend the PAUSE order beyond May 15 for New York City and the surrounding area as he waits for the novel coronavirus numbers to decline there.
On Sunday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s general reopening plan, which will have a regional phased approach. After May 15, Phase One would begin in lesser hit areas and include construction.
“Phase one of reopening will involve construction and manufacturing activities, and within construction and manufacturing, those businesses that have a low risk,” said Cuomo Sunday.
It will start upstate. The hard-hit downstate areas, including New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County are likely to have an extension of the PAUSE guidelines beyond the May 15 expiration of the current order.
When projects restart, workers will have to abide by public health guidelines. Industry leaders are working with the state and individual businesses will be tasked with creating a plan to get back to work while keeping the novel coronavirus infections at bay.
There will be 14 days between phases with the state monitoring health numbers and looking for flare-ups before moving to the next step.
Phase two will open certain industries based on priority and risk level. Businesses considered “more essential” with inherent low risks of infection in the workplace and to customers will be prioritized, followed by other businesses considered “less essential” or those that present a higher risk of infection spread. As the infection rate declines, the pace of reopening businesses will be increased.
Gary LaBarbera, the president of Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, released a statement, agreeing with Cuomo’s decision to put construction first.
“It makes perfect sense for the construction industry to be at the front end of the remobilization of the work force,” Labarbera said in a statement.
In their daily coronavirus press conferences on Thursday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy extended their stay-at-home orders in each state until May 15. Murphy made the announcement, specifically discussing the closure of NJ’s public schools, but said he remains hopeful that with public health guidelines in place longer he can make a “different” announcement in a month.
Murphy mentioned construction when asked about the Turnpike Authority’s planned April 28 meeting, which would address possible toll hikes, and if he is allowing that meeting to go forward as planned. He said it could, but only if it was done in a virtual setting and allowed a longer period for public comment. Figuring out the budget is the key to continuing vital infrastructure projects.
“Transportation money needs to be the main source of transportation projects,” he said and noted that the state must continue to provide
“Construction as a general matter for rest areas [and] big highway projects, that’s going on because NJ goes on,” he said.
Cuomo discussed the strategy for reopening New York, which will actually be the strategy used by seven Northeast states–NY, NJ, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island–in an alliance of I-95 corridor states created this week. (The plan will be created by a group consisting of a head public health official, a chief economic development officer, and the governor’s chief of staff from each state.)
Cuomo tweeted the guidelines for the plan, reiterating what he has said in the past–this will not be a reset to the way things were before the shutdown, but the beginning of a new way of doing business until a viable treatment or widespread public vaccine is established.
“Employers will need to develop new practices around workplace social distancing rules, transportation, customer interactions, and more,” he tweeted. “We need proactive protocols in the event of an infection at a workplace.”
The return to business will be phased in on a “priority scale,” he said.
“Business will reopen based on the risk posed,” he tweeted. “We will work on a regional basis.”
While most of the Northeast is on hold, the construction industry continues to provide its essential work in New York and New Jersey. Not only have transportation, utility, housing, and emergency projects continued, contractors and developers have stepped up to assist FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers with some of the many temporary hospital facilities popping up in New York and New Jersey—the two states hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic at this time.
Here are some of the fast-moving projects answering the call of the health care crisis by transforming convention and expo centers, college campuses and even a racetrack into makeshift medical facilities.
At the Meadowlands Convention Center, a general hospital has opened to care for those who require unrelated care and less severe COVID patients. The pop-up field hospitals at the Edison Convention Center and Atlantic City Convention Center are in progress. The Atlantic City site is scheduled to open on April 14.
Meanwhile in New York, construction is underway to convert the Westchester County Center’s main arena, several smaller main-level rooms and a second-floor theater into a hospital. At SUNY Stonybrook and SUNY Old Westbury sites, 250-bed treatment tents are scheduled to be completed on April 19. And three 1,000-bed units are set to begin construction at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York Expo Center in the Bronx and CUNY College Staten Island.
Hopefully, these sites will be enough to handle the influx of patients and, before too long, they can be returned to their intended purpose.
This week the Army Corps of Engineers will begin construction of temporary hospitals in New York. Supplies and materials have already arrived at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center, which could be completely turned into a medical facility in seven to 10 days. The convention center will have four 250-bed federal hospitals on the main showroom floor. There is also a possibility that space for 1,000 additional beds for medical staff would be needed.
Temporary hospitals will also be set up at three other locations: Westchester County Center, SUNY Stony Brook, and SUNY Old Westbury. These four locations were chosen from a longlist of possible sites because of space requirements and the ability to transform the locations quickly.
In the last two weeks, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released two reports, which combine to show a mixed picture of construction industry employment and spending.
Last week, AGC released an analysis of federal employment data from October 2018 to October 2019 that showed construction employment increased in 65 percent of U.S. metro areas. Despite the overall positive numbers nationwide, the Northeast took a hit. New York City had the largest number of job losses over that time period, losing 6,200, or four percent, of its construction jobs, according to the report. (Fairbanks, AK, had the biggest decrease by percentage, dropping 13 percent which was a loss of 400 jobs.)
The report also showed hourly craftworker positions remain difficult to fill despite the overall job gains. In response to that, the AGC officials “urged the Trump administration and Congress to make it easier to bring in workers for specific jobs that cannot be filled domestically and to strengthen career and technical education opportunities for students seeking alternatives to college.”
A second analysis released this week showed construction spending declined .8 percent in October from September. The $1.291 trillion spent in October 2019 remained better than spending in October 2018 by 1.1 percent but, this year, decreases in private nonresidential, multifamily and public projects were too much to override an increase in construction of single-family homes, according to AGC’s analysis of federal spending data. The association blamed trade conflicts for the negative impact.
“Trade friction drags down U.S. economic growth,” AGC’s chief economist Ken Simonson said in a statement, adding, “Businesses that have been hurt by existing tariffs and retaliatory actions by U.S. trading partners or firms facing uncertainty over future trade policy are likely to hold off on construction projects.”