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Brice Baxter, owner and CEO of Baxter Construction, poses for a portrait Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in the shop warehouse at 2521 River Road in Yakima, Wash.

As of Thursday morning, Baxter Construction in Yakima had put more than half of its 60 employees on standby.

With Gov. Jay Inslee clarifying that most construction activity is not essential on Wednesday, many construction firms had to cut down their labor force. A "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order temporarily closed many of the state's nonessential businesses on Wednesday evening to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride with these changes,” owner and CEO Brice Baxter said. “The governor’s order is very pointed and direct. Standard construction at this junction is not considered essential.”

Under standby, the roughly 35 Baxter Construction employees can get unemployment, but the employer expects them to return to work. An employee cannot be on standby for more than eight weeks.

“They don’t have to go look for work,” he said.

Baxter said the company was able to retain some of its workforce to maintain its 24-hour emergency construction services, such as water extraction and mold remediation, deemed essential under the stay-at-home order.

Baxter is hoping to put standby employees back to work as the company increases its sanitation services. The company has always offered the service, but has seen increased demand as companies increase sanitation practices to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The company is offering a discount for the services, which Baxter hopes will draw additional interest.

Baxter said that he understands the state’s measures and supports efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. He is, however, also aware of the negative impact it will have throughout the construction industry, including those businesses that his company might hire for specific tasks.

“My biggest concern is for some of the smaller contractors; this could greatly affect them financially and be a hardship for them,” he said.

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Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang