OLYMPIA — In a major clarification to the statewide stay-at-home order, Gov. Jay Inslee's office said Wednesday evening that workers on most commercial and residential construction sites should stay home to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Nearly all construction is a nonessential activity under the state's new stay-at-home order, according to a memo issued by the governor's office.

The clarification is sure to frustrate some construction industry leaders who, since Inslee announced the stay-at-home order Monday evening, have insisted they are essential businesses allowed to continue operating.

"Under the Order 'construction workers who support ... construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction)' are listed as an 'essential service,'" the Building Industry Association of Washington wrote in an email to its members Monday. "Based upon this language, homebuilders and remodelers may continue with operations while the stay-at-home order is in effect."

The clarification rejects that interpretation, exempting only a very few categories of construction from the statewide mandate that all nonessential workers should stay at home.

The exceptions to the stay-at-home rule, which takes effect Wednesday at midnight, are construction related to essential activities like health care, transportation, energy, defense and critical manufacturing; construction "to further a public purpose related to a public entity," including publicly financed low-income housing; and emergency repairs.

All construction activities allowed to continue must comply with social distancing "and appropriate health and worker protection measures before proceeding," the memorandum said.

Many construction workers concerned about conditions on their job sites may be gratified by the clarification.

Nearly a dozen construction workers interviewed by The Seattle Times earlier this week said they feared catching COVID-19 at their job sites, where workers are often forced to work in close quarters and sanitation is an afterthought.

"I don't think there's much of a rush for new construction," said one construction worker, whose job site partner is in the hospital awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test. "It's going to take people with a bunch of money and give them more money — at what cost?"

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