The San Francisco construction contractor with the slate of multi-million-dollar remodeling jobs is maneuvering through the oddest weeks of his career.
In early March when the first COVID-19 cases hit California, he said he’d pay workers to stay home if they showed flu symptoms. When six Bay Area counties issued stay-at-home orders on March 16 he told workers to lock up their job sites indefinitely. But when the state of California ordered people to stay home March 19, the contractor learned his 30 crew members were key to “essential infrastructure,” and thus permitted to work.Perhaps the most surreal moment came when he had to tell this reporter to keep his name out of a story — despite the potential publicity for his company’s high-end services — because he fears a backlash from people who might wonder why his crews were returning to $2 million to $8 million home-remodeling jobs, while armies of other workers were at home often without pay.“What we’re doing is slowly restarting our jobs, and being careful because people in the neighborhood might freak out,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk about how people aren’t taking the mandatory quarantine seriously, or not being disciplined about it, and they’re going to see housing construction projects that are operating, and maybe react badly.”
California, viewed as taking a cautious approach to the COVID-19 outbreak, created a loophole that’s being interpreted as allowing construction workers to toil in and around people’s homes on designer kitchens, bathrooms, decks and laundry rooms — as long as the project had been initiated before the order.
A similar carve-out has been introduced in states such as New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order makes an exception for “construction firms and professionals for essential infrastructure.” There are loopholes for construction work in locations around the world, too: In the U.K. the government has allowed construction to continue, so long as workers stay about 6 feet apart.