All non life-sustaining businesses in state ordered to close03/21/2020 10:07AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Just two days after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recommended that nonessential businesses in the state shut down in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the commonwealth is now living in an even more intensely scrutinized new normal.
On March 19, Wolf ordered all non life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations, as well as the enactment of enforcement actions against businesses that do not close physical locations, beginning at 12:01 a.m. on March 21.
On March 17, Gov. Wolf recommended that nonessential businesses such as hair salons, fitness centers and gyms, movie theaters and retail stores for a two-week period. However, due to the lack of a serious response to the initial compliance, Gov. Wolf said that he and state officials were forced to step up safety measures.
“I had hoped for voluntary compliance so our public safety officials could focus on assisting with the crisis,” Wolf said in a video statement on March 19. “Unfortunately we have not seen full compliance. We have no time to lose.”
Those businesses included on the list represent a wide swath of sectors from several Pennsylvania industries, including agriculture, business services; construction; financial institutions, real estate, rental and leasing operations; manufacturing; leisure and hospitality; media and information centers; and transportation and utilities.
The new guidelines have ordered the closing of several sectors of manufacturing in the state, which include: apparel and textile; primary metal and fabricated metal; computer, communications, audio and video; electrical equipment; transportation equipment; as well as the manufacturing of furniture and other related items.
In addition, the following businesses have been ordered to close: motor vehicle and parts dealerships; furnishing and furniture stores; lawn, garden and equipment stores; clothing, sporting goods, and book and music stores and other similar establishments; as well as many sectors of the financial and insurance and real estate industry; legal services and accounting, architectural, engineering and specialized design firms.
Under the new rules, those industries and businesses who are exempt from closing in Pennsylvania include hospitals, subsidiary health care services, nursing and residential care facilities and social assistance; water, truck, rail and air transportation as well as transit and ground passenger transportation, with the exception of the use of charter bus transportation; religious organizations, including social, civic and social advocacy; and nearly ever sector of the food producing industry, which include agriculture, crop and animal production, as well as hunting, fishing and trapping.
In extenuating circumstances, special exemptions will be granted to businesses that are supplying or servicing health care providers.
Under the order, restaurants with full or limited seating will be permitted to remain open, but for take-out orders, only.
Penalties for non-compliance
Businesses and industries in Pennsylvania that choose to ignore the order may end up paying a steep price. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines, or license suspensions. Gov. Wolf has directed the following state agencies and local officials to enforce the closure orders to the full extent of the law:
• Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
• Department of Health
• Department of Agriculture
• Pennsylvania State Police
• Local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions
In addition, private businesses, local organizations and other noncompliant entities that fail or refuse to comply with the governor’s orders that protect the lives and health of Pennsylvanians will forfeit their ability to receive any applicable disaster relief and/or may be subject to other appropriate administrative action.
Such action may include termination of state loan or grant funding, including Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grant funding and/or suspension or revocation of licensure for violation of the law.
Finally, in addition to any other criminal charges that might be applicable, the Department of Health is authorized to prosecute noncompliant entities for the failure to comply with health laws, including quarantine, isolation or other disease control measures.
Violators will be subject to fines or imprisonment.
‘Now is the time for these actions’
These new requirements arrived on the same day that the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported a 39 percent increase in confirmed cases of coronavirus, a number that rose to 185 cases statewide on March 19. As of March 20, the Chester County Health Department reported that there are 11 current positive cases diagnosed in the county.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine echoed Gov. Wolf’s insistence that the statewide shut down of nonessential businesses comes at a very critical time.
“Business participation in our mitigation strategies is essential,” Levine said. “We are keenly aware of the economic impact of this epidemic, but the human toll will be far worse.
“We have a real chance at slowing the spread of this virus if we all just stay home and limit our exposure to one another,” Levine added. "Now is the time for these actions.”
The Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) offers working capital loans that could be of assistance to businesses impacted by COVID-19. Resources and information will be posted to http://dced.pa.gov/resources as they become available. The U.S. Small Business Administration, in addition to local funding partners, may also be a source of assistance for affected businesses.
“To protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, we need to take more aggressive mitigation actions,” Gov. Wolf said. “This virus is an invisible danger that could be present everywhere. We need to act with the strength we use against any other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].