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Questions hang over whether Evers’ order will apply to construction

Nate Beck

Gov. Tony Evers on Monday said he’s planning to order residents to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — a step that’s likely to still carry an exemption for much, if not all, of the Wisconsin construction industry.

During a press briefing, Evers said he’d issue an executive order on Tuesday that would direct all businesses that are deemed non-essential to close. Other states have exempted construction work from similar actions, but it was unclear by press time Monday whether Wisconsin would adopt similar standards.

Evers didn’t offer specifics about what businesses would remain open under the order but said they would be a “wide variety” of companies. He didn’t directly answer a question about whether construction would be considered an essential function, saying the executive order was still in the works. The governor also didn’t directly answer a question about how long the order would last.

“The decisions on (construction) are being made and we’ll have a better idea on that tomorrow,” Evers said.

The policy comes after Evers said on Friday that he was hoping to avoid requiring residents to stay home after other states had enacted so-called shelter-in-place orders. Last week, Evers issued an order outlawing gatherings of more than 10 people, and waived work-search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits.

City of Milwaukee leaders said on Monday they were planning to issue a complementary shelter-in-place order this week.
Evers’ decision seemingly goes against the wishes of GOP Legislative leaders who over the weekend released a statement saying they do not want to see the imposition of a shelter-in-place order.

Evers said on Monday that he hadn’t “personally” communicated with Republican officials and that his decision to order residents to stay home was made following advice from health officials and those in the “business community,” among others.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the state rose rapidly over the weekend from 206 on Friday to 416 on Monday. There have been four deaths reported so far.

“It’s not something I wanted to do and it’s not something I take lightly,” Evers said during a news conference Monday. “We’re all in this together and we need to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Evers, in an executive order on Friday, broadly included construction work as a function that should continue despite the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. That action stipulated that work should continue on “construction sites and projects,” including public works and remodeling projects.

Wisconsin construction industry officials have signaled their willingness to work through the outbreak and adopt policies calling for increased hand-washing and taking the temperatures of workers to slow the spread of the virus.

Federal officials last week also classified various types of construction work as essential services. On Thursday, a memo from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency included work on transportation, energy utility infrastructure, public works projects, water systems and building maintenance as essential functions that should continue throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.

States including Ohio and Illinois have also included construction work as an essential function that should continue amid shelter-in-place orders. Ohio’s order, for instance, classified the construction of hospitals, housing, long-term care facilities, public works, schools and other projects as essential work. Pennsylvania, in contrast, does not consider construction work an essential business.

Evers on Monday said Wisconsin’s order would adopt guidelines that are being observed in other states.

“There’s going to be a large number of businesses that will remain open just like we’ve seen in other states, including neighboring states,” he said.

Trade groups on Monday were pushing the Evers administration to adopt standards that would allow the industry to continue to operate. The Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin was urging

Evers to issue an order that would include a “broad clarification” exempting public and private construction projects from the shutdown.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin likewise sent a letter calling on the Evers administration to follow the examples set by other midwestern states by allowing construction to continue throughout the emergency.

“I think an encouraging sign is what other states have done,” said John Mielke, president of the ABC of Wisconsin. “Whenever you’re talking about infrastructure — your house infrastructure or business infrastructure — keeping all that stuff going is an essential service.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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