By Alberto Garcia
The sounds of lawnmowers and tree trimmers echo throughout neighborhoods as landscapers continue their work during the COVID-19 crisis despite the state and local health orders for most people to remain at home.
Landscape companies both big and small continue their work as nearly all of their work is conducted outdoors with little, if any, interaction with others.
The standing state order to remain at home excluded “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” that can continue to operate “to help state, local, tribal, and industry partners as they work to protect communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”
One of the sectors excluded from the remain-at-home order is “Public Works” which includes “plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.”
Although not specifically named in the list of essential workers, San Diego County health officials have decided that landscapers are excluded from the work restrictions.
According to San Diego County Health and Human Services Department spokesperson Sarah Sweeney, routine landscaping and pool maintenance services are interpreted to be essential because they can help prevent mosquito breeding and other issues that “could cause secondary health issues”.
“My work is almost all residential clients and I’m still working hard to make a living,” landscaper Ernesto Lopez told La Prensa San Diego this week. “I’m self-employed so if I don’t work I can’t feed my family and pay my rent so I’m glad we’re still allowed to work,” Lopez added.
After much lobbying by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the updated guidelines released by the US Department of Homeland Security on March 28th were amended to now include landscapers among “workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, builders, contractors, HVAC Technicians, landscapers, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, businesses and buildings such as hospitals, senior living facilities, any temporary construction required to support COVID-19 response.”
In other states, stay-at-home orders have specifically included landscapers as essential workers, including in Arizona, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and a few others like Illinois, Indiana, and North Carolina have confirmed that allow landscaping even though their orders do not specifically mention the trade as an essential sector.
But some states have specifically restricted landscaping as non-essential, including Michigan, while Washington only allows landscaping “to the extent necessary to prevent imminent damage or spoilage of hardscape or greenery”.
As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have increased in the US, health experts point to the decrease in cases in China as a sign of hope for the US, but the extent of the lockdown methods used in China were much more serious and extensive than any measures taken int he US so far.
In China, entire cities were locked down using mandatory government orders requiring health inspectors at presidential buildings, closures of airports, highways, and train stations, and even drones with speakers that warned people to return to their homes. None of those types of measures have been implemented in the US.
The US now has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases at 300,106 and 8,1241 deaths, California has reported 12,512 cases and 281 deaths, and San Diego reports 1,112 cases and 17 deaths.