Today, after remarking at a press conference that Pennsylvania will not return to its prior color-coded system of COVID-19 risk mitigation practices for counties ( i.e. red, yellow and green), the Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued two new statewide health orders affecting construction firms and construction activities. These orders, which apply to a full range of businesses throughout the state, are designed to address a rise in incidence of the disease and involve new requirements for face coverings and travel.
First, the Secretary of Health issued an order “requiring universal face coverings.” For construction firms, it's important to take notice that the order segregates office activities from outdoor activities.
For office activities, employees and visitors must wear face masks, “irrespective of physical distance.” The Secretary issued six exceptions, three of which may apply to construction firms and projects. These exceptions include situations in which:
- Wearing a face mask would create an unsafe condition for the employee to operate equipment;
- The employee has a medical condition; or
- The employee is working alone or isolated from interaction with other people (e.g. working in an office with four walls and a door or a cubicle with walls high enough to block the breathing of a coworker).
For construction workers engaged in outdoor activities, no face masks are necessary if they are able to maintain physical distance of six feet on a sustained basis and have no expectation of physical contact. Practically speaking, most employees and visitors will have to wear masks at all times on most construction projects. The order takes effect on November 18, 2020.
In a separate order, the Secretary of Health also issued travel restrictions that require individuals traveling into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to obtain a test for COVID-19 within 72 hours of entering the Commonwealth. Alternatively, individuals traveling into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may decline to take such a test and choose to self-quarantine for 14 days. One of four “exemptions” may apply to construction workers: Individuals traveling to and from the Commonwealth for purposes of work do not have to take a test or self-quarantine. Best practices suggest that your employees who expect to travel over the holidays should plan to be tested upon return. In that event, a negative test means the employee can continue normal work activities. This order takes effect November 20,2020.