Despite several stay-at-home orders that exempt construction as “essential” work, confusion continues across California and other Western states as contractors, owners and construction workers look for government guidance on how to interpret vague and varying language to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on March 19 ordered workers to stay at home, except those in 16 critical infrastructure sectors, including communications, energy, water and transportation. On March 22, the state also exempted certain workers that construct, operate, inspect or maintain essential public works facilities.

However, “there is still the question of whether the governor’s order supersedes local city and county orders,” says Daniel Engler, partner at San Francisco law firm Cox Castle and Nicholson.

“There is still the question of whether the [California] governor’s order supersedes local city and county orders.”

– Daniel Engler, Cox Castle and Nicholson

“As of this moment, some local authorities are continuing to enforce stricter ordinances than the governor’s executive order; we do not have clarity or definitive answers as to who supersedes who,” says Peter Tateishi, CEO with AGC of California.

Union trade association United Contractors (UCON) advised firms working in areas with stricter ordinances to contact the project owner or local government for direction. “Contractors are being bombarded with information-overwhelm and uncertainty,” says Emily Cohen, UCON executive vice president. “They need clarity, guidance and relevant, up-to-date information on a range of issues.”

In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on March 25 clarified his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation, further restricting construction activity.

Most private construction work will likely come to a halt, as it isn’t deemed essential in the governor’s ruling, unless it is a project working on low-income housing or to support an essential service, such as IT infrastructure.

Inslee’s order also will suspend most operations for the Washington State Dept. of Transportation.

“We think this is more clarity than we had before,” says Dave D’Hondt, executive vice president of AGC of Washington. “Unless it is an essential project per the governor’s order [it is shut down].”

The stop order is currently scheduled to end April 6.

Oregon’s stay-at-home order specifically exempts construction trades as long as social distancing is practiced. Hawaii’s order mirrors California’s, while Alaska has no stay-at-home order, as of press time.