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PA Votes to Reopen Economy

Friday, April 24, 2020

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In following Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement regarding a three-phase gradual reopening of the state’s economy, House Republicans have taken matters into their own hands, passing along legislation that would allow various businesses to begin reopening even sooner.

The legislation involves the reopening of construction, auto sales, and retail stores, provided they practice social distancing and follow other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

COVID-19-Related State Shutdowns

In the middle of March, serving as a response to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Wolf shut down all non-essential businesses in all the state’s 67 counties.

The decision led to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission order for all contractors to cease work on current projects for a minimum of two weeks, making Pennsylvania the first state in the nation to suspend infrastructure-based construction. Additionally, the Department closed all district offices, motorist licensing offices and welcome centers.

However, the Turnpike and PennDOT reportedly continued emergency repair maintenance as needed.

At the same time, Boston became the first U.S. city to halt construction activities amid the pandemic, with Mayor Martin Walsh banning all construction in the city for 14 days after reporting that 33 people had been infected with the virus.

On March 31, PennDOT reported that 61 emergency and critical highway and bridge projects would be activated statewide, although the normal highway and bridge construction program would remain paused.

"A safe and reliable transportation network is always of the utmost importance, but it becomes even more crucial in times of crisis," said Acting PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, at the time. "We need to ensure that work continues on these critical projects, and we are taking the proper precautions to help ensure the safety of both our employees and our partners in the industry."

A week prior to the announcement, the National Roofing Contractors Association wrote to President Donald J. Trump expressing concerns over the definitions of “essential businesses” and “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NRCA went on to note that the roofing industry—including all manufacturers, raw material suppliers, distributors and contractors—is an essential $100 billion sector with an estimated 1.1 million employees altogether. The association also assembled a resource page for contractors seeking direction during the crisis.

Around the same time, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a construction-specific clarification that specified that most construction under the state’s stay-at-home mandate is not considered essential activity and included a list of exceptions.

Boston also extended its construction moratorium indefinitely, following New York City’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suspension of all but “essential” construction, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s orders sentencing the shutdown of non-critical construction.

Despite the looming shutdowns, at the beginning of April, Gov. Wolf, along with the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, approved the continued construction of the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s (Penn Medicine) Pavilion, in order to increase capacity for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

The $1.5 billion, 17-story, 1.5 million-square-foot hospital is slated to open this month—15 months ahead of schedule. There are reportedly 700 workers at the site spread out in three shifts; each worker is screened by clinical staff before they can begin a shift.

Relief, Reopening and Recovery

According to Gov. Wolf’s plan, the phased reopening of state businesses was decided through evidence-based data and quantifiable criteria, and planned to be put in effect through a regional, sector-based approach.

Through a consolation team involving the state and its Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Labor and Industry, and others, the administration planned to develop guidance for businesses, local governments, workers, and customers with the goal of guiding a safe and iterative reopening process.

“This guidance will reinforce and build on existing worker and building safety orders. It will also be able to adapt to the changing nature of the pandemic, as well as lessons learned from communities that return to work strategically,” stated the release.

Split into a three-phase matrix (Red, Yellow and Green), the team has devised a system to determine when counties and/or regions are ready to begin easing some restrictions on work, congregate settings, and social interactions.

Currently, the Red Phase applies to the entire state, using strict social distance methods, the closure of non-life sustaining businesses, school closures, and various building safety protocols.

Moving into the Yellow Phase, the plan states that, “some restrictions on work and social interaction will ease while others, such as closures of schools, gyms, and other indoor recreation centers, as well as limitations around large gatherings, remain in place.”

Work and congregate setting restrictions for the Yellow Phase include:

  • Telework Must Continue Where Feasible;
  • Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business and Building Safety Orders;
  • Child Care Open with Worker and Building Safety Orders;
  • Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place; and
  • Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction.

Yellow Phase social restrictions involve:

  • Stay at Home Restrictions Lifted in Favor of Aggressive Mitigation;
  • Large Gatherings of More than 25 Prohibited;
  • In-Person Retail Allowable, Curbside and Delivery Preferable;
  • Indoor Recreation, Health and Wellness Facilities (such as gyms, spas), and all Entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) Remain Closed; and
  • Restaurants and Bars Limited to Carry-Out and Delivery Only.

Both phases must also follow CDC and DOH guidance while monitoring public health indicators, adjust orders and restrictions, as necessary.

During the final Green Phase, Gov. Wolf proposes that all stay at home orders, aggressive mitigation orders and business closure orders will be lifted strategically, while continuing to prioritize public health. During this phase, all businesses will also be required to follow CDC and state DOH guidelines.

No timeline on when the state will begin practicing each phase has been released at this time.

Upon announcing the state’s reopening plan, on Monday (April 20), large crowds of demonstrators gathered in Harrisburg, among other parts of the state, to protest the continued shutdown.

Just hours after the protest, however, Gov. Wolf announced that the state’s stay-at-home order would be in effect until May 8—the same day that online sales of vehicles, curbside pickup of wine and spirits at certain Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board locations and the restart of the construction sector would go into effect, as stated in Senate Bill 841, which was signed the same day.

What’s Happening Now

According to reports, numerous state representatives have introduced bills into Congress that would reopen businesses more quickly than Gov. Wolf has intended in his recent order and three-phase plan.

In response to Gov. Wolf’s approval for wine and spirits curbside pickup, House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, said, “If curbside pick is good enough for the government, it should be good enough for all the other businesses that wish to employ it safely.”

Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, recently introduced House Bill No. 2376, which would allow for the reopening of retail stores but limits them to one employee and one customer inside at a time and allows for contactless curbside pickup.

Another effort made by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, allows for public and private construction activities to resume, if workers adhere to CDC mitigation measures. Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny County, also introduced legislation that would allow auto dealers to go back to allowing in-person auto sales.

All the bills have since gone to the Senate for consideration.

Read all of PaintSquare Daily News’ coverage on COVID-19, here.

   

Tagged categories: Business conditions; Business management; Business matters; Business operations; Construction; COVID-19; Government; Health and safety; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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