Construction is still considered an essential business that can keep running during the statewide limits on activity because of the coronavirus, but new guidance from the state suggests reducing crew sizes and possibly deferring nonurgent work to reduce risks.
The updated guidance, released Wednesday by the Colorado Department Public Health and the Environment, said construction can continue because of the unique issues it faces with the supply chain of materials, financing, contract deadlines and public need. But companies must adhere to guidelines for keeping people apart to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, even if that increases costs or the time it takes to finish the work, according to CDPHE.
Gov. Jared Polis on March 25 ordered all Coloradans to stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. Businesses not deemed essential have closed to the public. Restaurants can offer only take-out or curbside service and schools are closed to in-person instruction.
The statewide order runs through April 11, but Polis has extended the school closure through April 30. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has said he’ll likely extend the city’s stay-at-home through the end of April.
Besides construction, businesses allowed to keep running because they’re considered essential include grocery stores, agriculture, the oil and gas industry, gas stations and convenience stores. The original guidance for construction companies referred to work involving housing for low-income and vulnerable people and services needed to maintain safety and sanitation.
The revisions build on the order and offer more specific guidelines, said Conor Cahill, spokesman for Polis.
“The Governor’s top priority is to keep people safe during this pandemic and as the situation evolves we will continue to take into account the best ways to do that,” Cahill said in an email.
Anybody showing possible COVID-19 symptoms cannot work, the CDPHE said. Other guidance for construction workers include the following recommendations:
- Reduce size of work crews to the minimum number of people possible to perform the task safely.
- Minimize interaction between work teams.
- Maintain a 6-foot distance between employees wherever possible.
- Focus on activities that are truly critical: Not all construction activities are of equal urgency.
- For small projects, especially residential projects such as home renovations, businesses and homeowners are strongly encouraged to provide construction contractors with flexibility to defer work until after the stay at home order is lifted.
Justin Cooper, president of Denver-based Saunders Construction Inc., has said the company doesn’t take lightly the fact that construction can keeping going while other businesses have been idled.
“Many of us go home to our families and we’re asked, ‘Why is your job essential,’ ” Cooper said.
Jason Wardrip, business manager for the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council, said he has gotten similar questions. And the union official has heard from some workers worried about exposure to the coronavirus and from their spouses.
“I worry about my guys, too. But I have a whole slew of guys who are happy that they’re working,” Wardrip said.
The union wants to hear about any issues at work sites, Wardrip added. “If there are not safe instances, they have to tell us so we can work to make them safe.”
Saunders halted work March 31 for two days on a new community commons building and residence hall on the University of Denver campus after a worker was tested for the coronavirus. Cooper said in an email Wednesday that the worker, whose test results hadn’t come back yet, and others who had been near the person went into quarantine.
Saunders had the site cleaned and disinfected, following Centers for Disease protocols and guidance from a local industrial hygienist, Cooper said.
Wardrip said he knew about the incident at the DU construction site. ”It was closed off Wednesday and they were cleaning extensively.”
He said the union encourages workers to stay 6 feet part, as stated in health guidelines, and follow other protocols to stay healthy and safe.
While construction has kept going across much of the Denver metro area, communities on the Western Slope have halted some or all projects, taking a stricter approach to what work is critical.
“We shut down everything,” said Brian Pawl, Pitkin County’s chief building official.
Companies were given a week to end operations. Through April 17, only work on emergencies, such as a water-main break, will be allowed. Pawl said the county might extend the order through April 30.
The building department had been working with construction companies to keep work sites safe, Pawl said, but county health officials decided to halt the work to curb the spread of COVID-19. Colorado’s mountain resort areas, including Pitkin County, have had the state’s highest rates of infection per 100,000 residents.
State and county officials have asked people from other parts of the state not to travel to mountain communities because the areas aren’t equipped to handle a spike in coronavirus cases.
Some construction projects are still in progress in Glenwood Springs, but not city projects. The city halted work at a park and is postponing a road project, said Hannah Klausman, a senior planner and spokeswoman for the city.
Klausman said Glenwood Springs wants to set an example as well as stem the spread of the coronavirus.
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