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First turn of the dial: Gov. Inslee eases coronavirus restrictions on construction

A crane towers over a building under construction in Tacoma in late summer 2019.
Parker Miles Blohm
A crane towers over a building under construction in Tacoma in late summer 2019.

Washington state has reached a small milestone in the fight against COVID-19: some construction projects may resume, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday. 

But there are strings attached to the loosened guidelines, and resuming work relies on a continued downward trend of novel coronavirus cases.  

“We are trying to find that right balance of safety and productivity,” Inslee said, during a news conference announcing the eased restrictions. 

Low-risk projects may start back up again under a variety of conditions: job sites must have an on-site supervisor for COVID-19 as well as virus-specific safety plans, and employers must provide adequate personal protective equipment. Any plans must be posted at the job site, and workers can only perform tasks where social distancing is feasible. 

The “thorough, thoughtful approach,” as Inslee called it, was developed with help from a task force of industry leaders. They joined Inslee for Friday’s announcement. 

Mark Riker, executive secretary with the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, said the group evaluated tasks that can be performed on any given job site. While it’s hard to quantify how many people can get back to work under this plan, Riker said it’s inclusive of all industry sectors.  

Inslee stressed that any projects that can’t comply with all the detailed guidelines can’t resume work. He foreshadowed the possibility of lifting other restrictions, citing recreation and elective surgeries specifically, and said details could be available in the coming days. 

Still, a full reopening of the economy isn’t possible now, Inslee said. If we did, he added, “this virus would return with a vengeance.”

Inslee has said, including in a plan he released earlier this week, that opening the economy would look more like the turn of a dial than the flip of a switch. Friday was that first turn of the dial.

“We now have bent the curve. We’ve learned from this. This is going to be an intelligent, incremental process,” Inslee said. “We now think we can return to the (construction) industry safely.”

News Coronavirus Coverage
Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.