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Amid Covid-19 shutdown, NY construction projects chug along

New York

FOR now, construction continues. As the Covid-19 outbreak quiets New York City - closing offices, idling taxis and shuttering bars - workers in bright yellow reflective vests, hard hats and steel-toe boots are still showing up.

On Wednesday morning, the pounding of jackhammers and the blaring beeps of trucks in reverse broke the eerie quiet on the waterfront in Brooklyn's Williamsburg, where work continues at Domino Park.

It was the same in Queens and Manhattan, where new offices and residential buildings are under construction.

At the Waldorf Astoria hotel, workers were busy fixing the facade of the iconic Park Avenue hotel, which is being turned into high-end condos.

Near the Brooklyn Bridge, roughly 300 workers are putting up a luxury condo building. The developer, Lightstone, is expecting to receive a shipment of cabinets, vanities and marble slabs from Italy, which were ordered before the virus shut down the country.

"Three hundred guys spread over 66 floors is not a lot," said Scott Avram, the Lightstone executive who oversees the project. "You are not confined to an office. They are already wearing gloves and masks and hats and glasses and they are already not working in close proximity to one another."

Boston has suspended all construction projects in the city, while San Francisco's new shelter-in-place order has left cranes and construction sites deserted.

In New York, it is largely business as usual - though some workers have been calling out because they are worried about the virus, said Elizabeth Velez, chair of the New York Building Congress, an industry trade group.

"The work is ongoing, but it's getting quieter on construction sites as we grapple with the issue of ensuring we have enough staff to be able to work and mitigate against the risk," she said.

"So far, there's no plan to delay."

Some New Yorkers are just now realising how loud construction can be, especially since many are working from home. City councilman Keith Powers, who represents part of Manhattan, said his office has been getting calls from constituents about all the noise.

With many commuters avoiding Manhattan, the foyer of Grand Central Terminal was eerily sparse on Tuesday this week, while major construction projects nearby continued.

That could change soon, with local officials considering stricter rules that would require New Yorkers to stay home.

If construction projects in the city are halted, economic repercussions could be devastating. There are currently more than 6,800 active construction sites across the city, employing tens of thousands of workers.

Shutting down the projects could bankrupt construction firms and lead to massive layoffs, issues that other industries are contending with as the virus roils the US economy.

Carlo Scissura, president and chief executive officer of the New York Building Congress, said: "The economic impact of what happens to projects that aren't moving is devastating." BLOOMBERG