Today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that non-essential construction can resume at 6 a.m. on Monday, May 18.
Construction sites can resume work with the following safeguards in place:
- Clear posting of safety protocols
- Preventing overcrowding
- Prohibiting non-essential visitors
- Staggering work hours and breaks
- Ensuring proper sanitation
Murphy reiterated what he has said all along that the data will drive the re-opening process for the state. The state is “not out of the woods yet,” he said, sharing a chart that showed New Jersey is the most impacted state in the country right now. Social distancing and face-covering must continue. If the numbers of illness and hospitalizations go up, he will step back and restart the stay-at-home orders and once again shut down non-essential businesses.
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.
Today New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order that will close all non-essential construction sites in the state indefinitely as of 8 p.m. on Friday April 10.
Exclusions to that order include work at hospital and school sites, as well as transportation and utility projects, affordable housing, individual housing sites that can adhere to strict limits in workers that allow workers to be safely distanced from each other. Any emergency repairs and work needed to safely secure a construction site would also be allowed.
Following the governor’s announcement of the executive order, UTCA sent this statement:
“As we anticipated infrastructure work is deemed “essential” and our projects will continue to be allowed to operate.
The following are categories of work to be deemed essential; however, when the Executive order is available, we believe the language contained in the order will provide more flexibility regarding the continuance of construction projects.
- Transportation projects, utility sector (both public & private) projects and most other public works projects.
- Construction necessary for the delivery of healthcare services, hospitals, Pharmacies, Pharmaceutical etc.
- School Construction
- Residential projects with affordable housing components
- Homeless shelter related projects
- Individual housing sites that can adhere to social distancing of workers on-site at any given time
- Work needed to safely secure a construction site”