Coronavirus: New York halts all nonessential construction projects
ALBANY – All nonessential construction projects in New York have been temporarily halted as the state continues to seek ways to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday.
The Democratic governor's reversal Friday came as construction workers and some unions raised concern about having employees working in close quarters as New York and other states seek to limit the number of people who congregate in a single space.
Originally, all construction was exempt from Cuomo's New York on PAUSE order, which took effect Sunday and required all non-essential businesses to close or require their workforce to work remotely.
That changed Friday, when Empire State Development — the state's economic-development branch — issued new guidance, saying only essential construction projects would be allowed to proceed while Cuomo's order remains in effect.
“We’re closing down nonessential construction site," Cuomo said Friday at his daily coronavirus briefing in Manhattan. "Some construction is essential to keep the place running, but nonessential construction is going to be stopped."
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The new directive isn't a surprise to the construction industry, which has been in close contact with the governor's office, said Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State.
His group agrees with the measures but is seeking further guidelines to ensure all contractors are complying with the law.
"Obviously, at this point, priority No. 1 is public health," Elmendorf said.
What projects will be shut down?
The new directive applies only to nonessential construction projects.
It has no impact on projects relating to roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing, and homeless shelters, per state guidelines.
Emergency construction projects "necessary to protect health and safety of the occupants" or a project that would be unsafe if left undone will not be impacted.
But sites that can't maintain a safe social distance of six feet must also close down.
And contractors found in violation of the order can face fines of up to $10,000.
The new guidelines stem out of safety concerns centered in New York City, where the highest confirmed numbers of COVID-19 cases have been reported, Elmendorf said.
His group is seeking further guidance from the state to ensure all contractors can be in compliance with the new regulations and help to drive the state's economy wherever possible.
"It's important than our folks get this right and know clearly what they should and shouldn't be doing," he said.
Why the change?
The new directive is the latest attempt by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that had killed more than 500 New Yorkers as of Friday.
He has ordered New Yorkers to stay home when possible and those who leave to maintain a safe social distance of six feet.
Still the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to climb, up to 44,635 as of Friday morning. About 1,500 New Yorkers battling the disease are in intensive care units across the state.
Cuomo has warned the restrictions could remain in place for months.
Chad Arnold is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at CGARNOLD@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @ChadGArnold.
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