PUBLISHED: May 8, 2020 at 6:10 a.m. | UPDATED: May 8, 2020 at 6:15 a.m.
On May 1, the Mercury News Editorial Board published an editorial that missed the mark when it comes to the construction industry operating safely in the Bay Area during the COVID-19 crisis. The construction industry has been a pioneer in terms of developing safety protocols, consistent with health guidelines established by the Bay Area county public health officers, to keep our workers safe and employed.
Santa Clara County has enacted one of the most aggressive shelter-in-place (SIP) orders in the state and country. And in that time, our county successfully slowed the rampant spread of the COVID-19 and saved the lives of thousands of residents. Thank you to Dr. Sara Cody and to all the first responders and front-line essential employees who have done the courageous and heroic work to get us to this point.
Seven weeks ago, our economy was humming along, enjoying one of the longest and most robust economic cycles in our region’s history. But now, most small and medium-sized businesses that were thriving weeks ago are now struggling to survive. Many will never open their doors again because of this economic shutdown.
With the infection curve flattened, hospital surge capacity improved, and social distancing a new norm; now comes the time for a careful, thoughtful approach as to how Silicon Valley gets back to work. We can accomplish this by evaluating what industries, jobs, and businesses can operate with clear guidelines and safety protocols that protect the worker, the customer, and the general public.
We can open those businesses and industries that can mitigate risk better than others. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom recently stated, “California is many days, not weeks away from starting to reopen” and has established a new roadmap for certain industries to safely reopen as early as Friday.
I agree, we cannot trade public health outcomes in exchange for economic health. Even a single death is too many.
However, I argue that opening construction isn’t a “roll of the dice”. It’s an informed assessment because the construction industry has led the way in establishing clear and safe standards to continue working according to guidelines established by the Building & Construction Trades Council of California. These guidelines include, but are not limited to: 1) perform deep cleaning on job sites on an accelerated basis, 2) keep workers separated by at least 6 feet while on the job and during rest/break periods, and 3) all workers should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) on the job site.
I encourage our public health experts to look at other industries and to work with business owners to work collaboratively to solve for the social distancing and safety protocol questions. The next step should be to start bringing back other businesses and industries that demonstrate the ability to operate with clear and safe guidelines.
We can’t just lift the SIP order and go back to “business as usual”. That would be foolish. But in our “new normal”, we need to start somewhere to balance the needs and health of our region’s economy with the health and safety of our overall community. The two are inextricably linked.
The continued uncertainly of the current shelter in place order and resulting economic crisis is creating fear, despair and a lack of hope in the future. We know COVID-19 will be with us for some time, but we are now in a far better place to thoughtfully get our economy moving again using science, data and common sense.
Matthew R. Mahood is president & CEO of The Silicon Valley Organization.