While Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker has ordered most citizens to stay at their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction has been listed in his executive order under “essential infrastructure” and critical trades are included in a separate exemption.
However, the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) has temporarily suspended construction on CDB projects, meaning that much public sector work has been halted.
Jobsite slow-downs and shut-downs are quite likely to increase in the weeks ahead as social distancing rules are implemented, while hospitals seek voluntary contributions from the industry of N-95 safety masks.
Dr. Emily Landon, the lead epidemiologist at the University of Chicago said it would take more than a week to see the rate of infection slow down and longer than that for it start to go down following the introduction of the strict regulations, which has resulted in the closure of many businesses.
“We all acknowledge that this is the only way forward,” Landon said last Friday, adding “we cannot take care of everyone at once and can’t keep that low mortality promise.”
Landon said that waiting for hospitals to be overwhelmed will leave patients with nowhere to go if a shelter at home restriction was not enacted.
“We are in uncharted territory, so we are doing just everything possible to help our employees stay safe,” Engineering News-Record (ENR) quoted Michael Meagher, president of Chicago’s James McHugh Construction Co. and the president of the Chicagoland Associated General Contractors. “We’re having a 7 a.m. phone call every day with the (AGC Chicagoland) executive team, trying to be responsive to our projects and sending out a daily update to all of our employees by pretty much 9:30, 10 a.m. every day with any updates of what’s going on.”
ENR quoted Meagher as saying that local contractors’ goal is to take the best advice and knowledge of experts and to respond accordingly.
“If the experts tell us not to work, we’re going to comply with that,” he said. “We are not pushing one way or the other. We want the safest possible way, so we’re relying on the experts for their direction and our political leadership to give us a direction to go.”
“We’re just trying to make sure we have a healthy workforce,” Meagher says.
The executive order says work can continue on Illinois for construction “including, but not limited to, construction required in response to this public health emergency, hospital construction, construction of long-term care facilities, public works construction, and housing construction.” The order also states that “essential Infrastructure shall be construed broadly to avoid any impacts to essential infrastructure, broadly defined.”
Sites remain open and permits are still being issued with precautions in place in Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky and Kansas, ENR has reported.
However, the CDB has put a halt to most work on public sector construction projects in Illinois.
“Due to concerns about the further transmission of the COVID-19 virus, CDB has temporarily suspended most construction activities on CDB projects,” the agency said in a statement. “Design work not performed at a State facility can still continue, if it can be performed in a way that does not jeopardize the health of the design professionals working on the project.”
CDB also said it is suspending “all open procurement actions.”
“This includes all projects out for bidding and posted in the Bid Information Newsletter (BIN), those projects advertised int he Professional Services Bulletin (POSB) and current Design-Build RFP’s that are active. At the appropriate time these procurements ill be resumed through the issuance of Addenda or Amendments as appropriate and submittal dates will be adjusted to allow adequate time for preparation of bids and submittals.”
Earlier in the week, the co-operative union/management Construction Industry Service Corporation (CISCO) published construction site guidelines for the COVID-19 crisis, quoting materials from Chicagoland AGC:
- Labor and management have been collaborating well. Both parties are committed to keeping jobsites clean, employees healthy, and sites open.
- Best practices are being applied at jobsites and Labor is supportive of those cited here.
- Anyone who is sick is required to stay home.
- CDC guidelines are being followed to keep sites and trailers clean. Cleaning firms have
- been hired and some even kept on retainer to be readily available.
- Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer are being made available, especially in higher risk areas like elevators and restrooms.
- Wearing gloves is being encouraged.
- When possible start times are being staggered to eliminate larger gatherings, breaks and lunches are encouraged to be taken alone and spread out, group meetings like safety briefings are being replaced with one-on-one meetings, and elevator trips are taking fewer passengers at a time.
- Residential start time restrictions are being reviewed to hopefully help with staggered start times.
- Some sites will be using thermal imaging equipment or laser thermometers to test for employees for fevers; again, Labor is supporting these measures.
- Anyone who tests high is sent home and the subcontractor and union will be informed.
In discussing our industry, it is important to remember and stress:
- The construction industry is unique in that much of our work already practices “social distancing” at a jobsite.
- Jobsites average well under the crowd restrictions that the Governor has cited as optimal.
- Jobsites are naturally spread out and people are not “on top of each other”, unlike the restaurant industry.
- Workers do not interact with the general public as a function of their job.
- Many of the job sites are outdoors or are well ventilated.