Construction projects can now resume if supervisors can show the state that they’re following new safety guidelines amid COVID-19, Gov. Jay Inslee announced at a news conference April 24.
It remained unclear how many people will get back to work in the coming days, but work may restart before the expiration of the governor’s current stay-home order on May 4.
The governor and industry representatives outlined a plan to get crews back to work on “low-risk” projects that were under way when he renewed the order last month. Not all work will be permitted. Tasks on construction sites must allow for social distancing, and employers must provide protective equipment, set up plans to mitigate possible outbreaks and meet other safety requirements.
“I would not support any plan that would not protect the people who are providing us our shelter,” Inslee said.
The effort to get construction sites up and running comes after discussions with six heads of building and development associations, unions and other groups. Those discussions proved “hard-working people of good faith can reach agreements,” Inslee said. The process will likely be repeated with other industries in the future, but it’s still too early to say when that will be, he added.
“The day of reopening our economy is not today, it would be way too dangerous,” he said.
On April 14, developers, contractors and construction workers sent Inslee a letter detailing steps they could take to safely resume work, most of which are mirrored in the governor’s plan.
“The governor has given us the opportunity to have a great effect in our industry — he’s put it back in our hands,” Mark Riker, executive secretary of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, said at Friday’s news conference. “It’s our job to do it right. If we do it right, we’ll move to the next step. If we do it wrong, we will be shutting ourselves back down. It won’t be his fault, it will be ours.”
Earlier this week, the governor mapped out some steps for the state to slowly dial back the stay-home order, with the resumption of some elective surgeries, residential construction, and hunting and fishing being the first.
Inslee said he hopes to make sure nurses and medical staff have enough personal protective equipment for elective surgeries. An update on hunting and fishing will be coming in the next few days, he said.
Statewide, there have been 12,753 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 711 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.
“Each one of those losses is not a number, it is not a statistic, it is a tragedy in our families,” Inslee said. “We know that the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order is working, but we know that it has to continue to avoid a dire fate. And we know that much work remains to be done to control this virus.”
The governor’s announcement caps a week that started with 2,500 people gathering at the Capitol in Olympia to protest his stay-home order and criticism from some state lawmakers and Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, who called the order unconstitutional.
State law gives the governor wide authority during declared emergencies, including the prohibition of public and private gatherings, imposition of curfews, the closure of stores and restriction of access to streets, roads and highways, some of which Inslee has done.