Tens of thousands of California construction workers are being deployed to retool and refit the hospitals, hotels and buildings the state urgently needs as a surge response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an unprecedented statewide “stay home” order, any trades employees whose work has been curtailed, plus thousands of apprentices, are expected to move into new priority projects related to fighting the virus. The new work to stop the coronavirus spread and provide treatment would involve filling 24-hour shifts and potentially “tens of thousands” of jobs.
And, after Newsom’s office clarified that construction and housing construction are deemed “essential” for the state, many workers will continue working on current projects during the crisis. Construction workers typically do not work close to each other on job sites and unions have mandated that members maintain social distance as they continue their essential work.
The governor’s shutdown order doesn’t apply to the vast majority of construction projects in California because its workers are on projects directly related to critical issues like trade, transportation, health care, supply chain and state operations. Economists note that the building industry “is absolutely a critical sector of the economy” and needs to continue to prevent a repeat of the Great Recession, when housing construction went dead for several years, worsening a housing crisis that endures today.
In terms of the workers that will be deployed to help the state with its coronavirus response, the state is currently in the process of acquiring and converting two hospitals devoted to treating patients, one in Northern California and another in Southern California. And the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy will arrive in the Port of Los Angeles to provide relief for the region’s hospitals. Mercy will provide 1,000 hospital beds, as well as mobile hospitals. All these facilities will require workers to prepare for a potential surge of thousands of Covid-19 patients. The USNS Mercy, for example, is a modular unit that is completely ready to go. Workers could end up building ramps to get ambulances right up to the ship, and come in with cranes to get materials transferred from the dockside into the ship.