As COVID-19 continues to dominate conversations and headlines across the world, more and more American states have declared “shelter in place” orders, restricting most businesses from keeping their doors open. There are, however, some major exceptions — businesses considered “essential” enough to continue operating during this crisis. For many states, “essential services” include those of us in the construction and building materials industries. If you’re not exactly clear about what that means for you, however, you’re not alone. Here’s our brief guide, breaking down “essential services” for the construction industry.
What are ‘Essential Services’?
Since there are currently few regulations on what will be deemed “essential” on the federal level during this time, most of the decisions regarding essential businesses exempt from shelter-in-place orders are made on a state-by-state basis. These include the obvious ones, like grocery stores and healthcare providers, as well as certain sectors vital to the functioning of our society, like energy and communications. These kinds of services are considered crucial to the country’s infrastructure. Be sure to check your own state’s guidelines to what’s classified as “essential businesses,” as, again, regulations don’t necessarily cross state lines.
Why Is Construction Usually ‘Essential’?
So why does construction often fall in this camp? Well, consider what all these sorts of essential businesses we listed have in common. They all need contractors and building material dealers to build and maintain their facilities, and to provide them with equipment that will keep them in operation — often helping them save lives. Contractors are also the best in the business at building temporary housing to shelter those in need of it. Beyond emergency and maintenance services, however, one could easily make the argument that new construction, both commercial and residential, is an indispensable part of infrastructure across the globe in more ways than one (and keeping the housing market as afloat as possible during this time is nothing to sneeze at).
However, all the American states that are still permitting construction projects are doing so with some major caveats, including that workers must maintain safe, six-foot distances between each other and members of the public. That will likely hurt those in the typically cramped indoor finishing and remodeling businesses the hardest — the majority of business that’s still taking place is focusing on new construction and outdoor work.
Even while the trades continue to be among the most resilient professions out there, the fact is, many contractors are going to be out of work for a spell. The state of New York, for instance, has closed down thousands of residential jobsites, in favor of more “essential” construction. Even if your government hasn’t mandated you to shutter your work, some construction unions are pushing for it anyway. Or perhaps your GC just wants to practice an abundance of caution — all of these decisions are perfectly understandable and reasonable, even if they may be painful. Check out our short guide to some of the things you can be doing during this newfound downtime to keep busy if this applies to you.
So Can You Still Work in Your Area?
Not all U.S. regions have put “shelter-in-place” orders into practice, and some states’ views of “essential” construction projects are narrower than others. You can expect more state and local governments to issue such requirements sooner than later. As with everything COVID-19 right now, there’s a great deal of uncertainty in what will happen in the near future. Thankfully, though, there’s no shortage of resources for information as we ride it out.
There are some incredible journalists doing incredible work to keep the industry informed. We have been particularly impressed as of late with Construction Dive — make sure to bookmark this page with their daily updates on how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting construction in the U.S. They are also regularly updating the below map, gathering the states and specific areas that are experiencing changes as this crisis unfolds.
Outside the industry, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention remains the most reliable source of news and tips for preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Check out their website here, and take their advice to heart. Even if you can work in your area, there’s still a question of if you should — and if you do, make sure to follow all the CDC’s guidelines.
Trim-Tex is also considered an essential business, supplying dealers and contractors with building materials that are manufactured entirely in the U.S., even as many of its staff members (this writer included) work from home. We will continue producing content like this to try and keep you up-to-speed and educated. (And stay tuned for more information on what we’re doing to help the cause soon.)