New guidelines by the Department of Homeland Security deem building as an "essential business." But local rules as well as builder sentiment toward the issue vary. Some construction being essential is clearcut, including hospitals, infrastructure, and residential homes in areas hardest hit by housing inventory shortages. But others, such as retail, fall within a more gray area. Some builders, though they continue their work, are shifting their schedules or slowing down projects to minimize the risk for their workers, while others continue as normal with a larger focus on social distancing. Whether construction is viewed as essential, however, closing businesses altogether could really do some damage as an industry propped up by contractors and informal workers that may not be able to collect unemployment benefits.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed life down for millions of Americans, but it hasn’t for Evan Adams, a specialty spots contractor based in Northern California. He currently has five in-progress construction projects, mostly installing school gymnasium floors, that are going full steam ahead due to contractual obligations. In construction, time is money, even during a global health crisis. “More than anything we need schools to extend deadlines and just slow the pace,” Adams says. “It is not essential to keep going at normal speeds.”
The federal government hasn’t issued specific mandates to the construction industry, so states and cities are enacting their own policies. California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 19 instructing all residents statewide to stay at home, but he granted exceptions for essential workforce, which includes “construction workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects, including housing construction.”