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Business Is Still Operating As Normal On Houston’s Construction Sites

The construction industry in Houston is continuing to operate as usual this week, despite tough restrictions placed on a variety of other businesses in the city to contain the coronavirus outbreak.


Boston Mayor Martin Walsh Monday became the first city leader in the U.S. to order the halt of construction projects. The suspension will last for 14 days, and came into effect today. The move came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also yesterday recommended reducing social contact to groups fewer than 10 people. Other cities are debating similar construction halts.

“I’m sure in New York and in California they’re stopping, because it’s so widespread, but right now, in Houston, Texas, we’re doing whatever we’re told to do,” EE Reed Vice President Patti Miller told Bisnow.

There have been 11 recorded cases of the coronavirus in Harris County as of Tuesday afternoon. Three of those were reported this afternoon.

McCarthy Building Cos. Vice President Preston Hodges told Bisnow the company is still operating its job sites, but members of staff are on calls every day, trying to determine what the impact of the coronavirus outbreak will have on the business.

“Here in Houston, we’re still going today, but that could change, obviously,” Hodges said.

Just over a week ago, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration published its guidance on how to prepare workplaces for the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. The document outlines OSHA recommendations, as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards.

“OSHA has come out and told us what we need to do on our job sites, so we’re following all their rules and regulations, until either the local government or somebody else tells us that we need to stop,” Miller said.

“The last thing we want to do is put our hourly workers out of work.”

Catherine Bezman, Associated General Contractors Houston senior director of communications and marketing, said staff and board members are continuing to monitor the rapidly changing information regarding COVID-19 in Houston, and are making changes daily to events and meeting schedules.

“To our knowledge, most of the companies we have spoken to are monitoring their construction job sites, asking workers whether or not they have had a fever in the past 24 hours and/or if they have come into contact with anyone known to have the COVID-19 virus,” Bezman said in an email.

“They are taking recommended safety measures from the CDC, OSHA, counties and other resources.”

Both EE Reed and McCarthy Building Cos. have employees working from home, apart from those who are needed in the office or on job sites.

Hodges said McCarthy’s construction workers were instructed to maintain social distancing and avoid working on top of each other. The company is choosing to focus on the completion of critical activities, rather than trying to get ahead on noncritical tasks.

“We’re just trying to minimize exposure with minimal impact to the business,” Hodges said.

McCarthy Building Cos. will be taking a reactionary approach going forward, according to Hodges.

Associated General Contractors of America CEO Stephen Sandherr said halting construction activity would do more harm than good for construction workers, community residents and the economy.

“Given the precautions already in place, halting construction will do little to protect the health and safety of construction workers. But it will go a long way in undermining economic vitality by depriving millions of workers of the wages they will need over the coming days,” Sandherr said in a statement.