STATE COLLEGE — State College contractor Ed Satalia says some customers feel uncomfortable having strangers working around their families. They feel the need to sanitize their homes afterwards.
With the emergence of Covid-19, Satalia says some of his workers have been just as uncomfortable with homeowners. It’s an uncertain time for everyone.
That dilemma was resolved in a drastic way on March 20 when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life sustaining businesses to close, making Pennsylvania the first state in the nation to halt all construction activity.
Satalia, the owner of Satalia Construction, said many families have had to find quick replacements for their living situation or live in unfinished houses.
“The day the shutdown was announced we were supposed to start putting in hardwood flooring into this family’s house. They had the bedrooms all torn up and a chunk out of their bedroom,” Satalia said. “That was about a month ago, I hope they’re not too mad at us.”
This order has forced many construction workers and contractors state-wide to be furloughed and like Satalia, their work has stopped mid-project. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 230,000 people in Pennsylvania work in the construction industry.
Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have criticized the restrictions, arguing that construction should be considered an essential business. House Speaker Mike Turzai, a Republican from Allegheny County, asked his House colleagues to support legislation that would allow construction work to continue.
“Halting home building sites and commercial construction sites has resulted in homes and other structures sitting half-finished and as a result, poses risk to public health and safety that must be immediately addressed,” Turzai wrote in a memo to lawmakers. “Leaving partially built homes and other construction sites exposed to the elements will compromise the integrity of building materials and add additional financial loss.”
Senator Dave Arnold, a Republican from Lebanon County, co-sponsored a similar bill in the state senate. It would require the government to issue a waiver to all public and private construction activities that can adhere to social distancing practices set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I think we can have both, I think we can be safe. We can remain healthy,” Arnold said in a memo to his Senate colleagues. “We can do all the social distancing and everything else we need to do to maintain the safety of our citizens while also getting businesses to some extent back to work.”
In a statement, House Democrats defended the governor’s waiver process to continue construction, under certain circumstances.
According to Satalia, most construction projects could continue with only one or two workers on the project. He believes social distancing comes naturally to workers in the construction business.
“You don’t ever have to have two guys working side by side,” Satalia said. “When the shutdown occurred we were working on a new house and there was a guy working on the inside of the house, a guy working in the basement, and a guy working in a bathroom. These men have no problems staying six feet away from each other.”
Satalia acknowledged that his business, like all others, will continue to take precautions after all restrictions are lifted.
“When we get back to work, I will definitely have stuff on site for them to be able to wash their hands and maintain distance,” Satalia said. “I don’t really see that as a problem. Our guys are just like anyone else, they don’t want to get sick.”