Reps. Walsh and Young issue joint statement to answer questions about residential construction during the COVID-19 crisis

Washington State Reps. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, issued the following joint statement regarding residential construction amid the coronavirus crisis. In their remarks, the lawmakers refer to documents from the governor and other government agencies:

“We have received literally thousands of questions from our constituents and people from all corners of the state about whether residential construction can proceed as an essential industry during the governor's current 'Stay Home, Stay Healthy' proclamation.

“We support our state's efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We are also cautiously optimistic the people of Washington have been able to 'bend the curve' and indeed slow the spread of the virus.

“Clearly, residential construction is an important part of Washington's economy—and critical to providing relief to the housing crisis that we face in many parts of the state. We've been asked repeatedly if residential construction projects can proceed. The answer is complicated.

“To start, it's worth pointing out that the federal agencies responsible for COVID-19 response have included construction in their list of essential industries allowed to stay open during the outbreak.

“Next, we look to the governor's essential business document on the state coronavirus information website. That document states:

  • …the Governor has designated the following list of 'Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers' to help state, local, tribal, and industry partners as they work to protect communities while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. 
  • …Construction workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction) for all essential facilities, services and projects included in this document, and for residential construction related to emergency repairs and projects that ensure structural integrity.
  • Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of construction sites and construction projects.
  • Workers providing, maintaining and repairing, heating, cooling and refrigeration services.

“The document also includes the following category of workers as essential:

  • Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.

“Many observers concluded from this initial document that residential and commercial construction could proceed in Washington state. However, a short time after issuing that initial document, the governor issued what his office called a 'clarification' that stated:

  • In general, commercial and residential construction is not authorized under the proclamation because construction is not considered to be an essential activity.
  • However, an exception to the order allows for construction in the following limited circumstances:
  • Construction-related to essential activities as described in the order;
  • To further a public purpose related to a public entity or governmental function or facility, including but not limited to publicly financed low-income housing; or
  • To prevent spoliation and avoid damage or unsafe conditions, and address emergency repairs at both non-essential businesses and residential structures.
  • To that end, it is permissible for workers who are building, construction superintendents, tradesmen, or tradeswomen, or other trades including, but not limited to, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laborers, sheet metal, ironworkers, masonry, pipe trades, fabricators, heavy equipment and crane operators, finishers, exterminators, pesticide applicators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC technicians, painting, moving and relocation services, forestry and arborists, and other service providers to provide services consistent with this guidance.

“In many circles, this clarification only created more confusion—as observers wondered what phrases like 'in general,' 'an exception,' and 'essential activities' mean in practice.

“Most recently, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 7, the governor suggested that he might clarify the 'clarification' by simply adding all construction activity to the essential business list:

  • 'There may be opportunities to do it in sort of steps where later in the game as we see more progress and bend this curve down further. And the [construction] industry is going to come back, roaring back as soon as we can in a safe way that does not jeopardize the progress that we've made.'

“We encourage the Governor to pursue the 'opportunities' that he mentioned in that press conference. And we encourage all Washingtonians to call the governor and ask him to clear up the confusion by taking the steps he described, sooner rather than later. The construction industry needs to get back to work!

“The governor's office can be reached by telephone at (360) 902-4111.

“Finally, we stand with the governor and encourage all businesses—whether involved in construction or not—to take all reasonable and necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among workers, clients/customers, and others. Those precautions include social distancing, cleaning exposed surfaces regularly, and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

“At this time, we must do all we can to balance the critical goals of protecting public health and keeping our economy vibrant. We hope this information helps the people and businesses of this state to stay informed.”


Washington State House Republican Communications