Public and Private Construction should be treated equally during the COVID-19 crisis

By MARK HARMSWORTH  | 
Mar 26, 2020
BLOG

On Monday Governor Inslee, during the ‘Stay in Place’ declaration, issued a list of essential businesses that are considered critical to minimizing the impact to public safety and continuity of state operations.

Over the last 48 hours the private construction industry believed they were included in the list of essential businesses and worked with the state to clarify some ambiguity in the declaration language.

In a letter to stakeholders on Wednesday, the Governor rejected that private construction was allowed to continue and said the exemption only applied to ‘further a public purpose related to a public or governmental function’.

State Senator Doug Erickson, in response to Governor Inslee’s new edict, made the point that ‘If the shutdown of private construction is a medical necessity, then governmental construction should be halted as well’.

In California, public and private construction is exempt.

The risk of COVID-19 infection is low in the construction business as many of the job functions, including inspectors, operate either in isolation or within the social distancing guidelines already issued by the government. Additionally, the construction industry has been diligent in working with employees to help them follow prevention guidelines issued by the CDC and is self-regulating with little government oversight.

The Puget Sound area is already struggling with affordable housing prices and a delay in bringing the badly needed inventory to the market will only exacerbate the situation.

The building industry position based on the list of designated essential services, is that it is exempt from the ‘Stay in Place’ requirement and can continue operations. Supportive services, such as inspectors and permitting staff should also be exempt from the ‘Stay in Place’ requirements for not only government construction projects, but all construction projects in Washington.

In the closing statement in his letter, Senator Erickson states, ‘All construction must be treated the same. We should put the health of the populace first, and the needs of government second, and treat everyone equally under the law’.

This is sound policy and the decision to exclude only part of an industry should be reconsidered.