COVID-19 outbreak in Pa.: What’s open and what’s closed

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This story will be updated with the latest COVID-related re-openings. Last update: Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

Updated: With all 67 Pennsylvania counties now fully, or partially, reopened, the Wolf administration has issued updated guidance for a host of outdoor-related businesses, from miniature golf courses and paintball ranges, to horseback riding businesses and tennis clubs.

“As summer quickly approaches and all 67 counties are in either yellow or green phases of reopening, it was important to provide businesses with the guidance necessary to safely reopen or plan for reopening as they reach the green phase,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement issued by his office. “I want all Pennsylvanians to remain active and to enjoy all the recreation the commonwealth has to offer, but we must do so safely and with social distancing top of mind.”

The new guidance “allows outdoor activities like mountain biking, outdoor miniature golf, motorsports venues, go carts, rock climbing, disc golf, paintball, horse riding, tennis, archery or shooting, and other similar facilities that conduct operations outdoors to resume operation in yellow phase counties,” the administration said.

Updated: All 67 Pennsylvania counties will move out of the red phase of reopening starting at 12:01 a.m., Friday, June 5, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said Thursday. Thirty-four of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties will move into the Wolf administration’s green phase of reopening on Friday, with 10 additional counties going into the yellow phase, for a total of 33 counties.

Updated: In his first in-person briefing in weeks on Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf offered guidance for 16 counties that will enter the green phase of reopening starting June 5. Restaurants, bars, salons, indoor recreation, gyms, spas and entertainment facilities can open at 50% capacity. Salons are required to operate by appointment only, and officials have asked gyms and spas to do the same. The green-phase order also bans gatherings of more than 250 people, including concerts, festivals, fairs, sporting events or theater performances.

Places of worship are excluded from gathering limitations, but officials have asked that those institutions enforce social distancing and implement other mitigation efforts.

Under the green order, prisons and hospitals may again allow visitation, but nursing home visitations are still barred.

Updated: 60 more state liquor stores are set to reopen on Friday in yellow phase counties. Gov. Tom Wolf has also set down guidance for businesses that are reopening in green phase counties, and restaurants that are reopening in yellow phase counties.

Updated: The Pennsylvania House of Representatives failed to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a bill seeking to reverse his business shutdown order. A state House panel will meet today to consider a measure that would lift the Democratic governor’s emergency declaration, suspending the executive powers he has wielded throughout the pandemic.

Updated: Gov. Tom Wolf, after vetoing a bill to reopen real estate authored by legislative Republicans, used his executive authority to allow realtors to to show properties and conduct transactions, as long as try to conduct as much business as possible remotely and restrict property visits to no more than two people at a time.

Wolf is also poised to sign a bill to allow bars and taverns to sell mixed drinks to go.

Updated: On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that 12 more counties, from the Poconos to south-central Pennsylvania, will move into the yellow phase of reopening, starting May 22. According to PennLive, Wolf is set to veto legislation authorizing real estate agencies to reopen.

Updated: The Pa. Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday that limited, walk-in sales will resume at 155 more state-run liquor stores starting Friday, for a total of 232 stores in 36 of 67 counties.

Updated: Twenty-four Pennsylvania counties emerge from lockdown on Friday morning, going from the “red zone,” to the “yellow zone,” in the Wolf administration’s color-coded reopening scheme. The move allows for the reopening of most businesses, with social distancing and other public health restrictions still in place. Meanwhile, the administration extended its stay at home order for the rest of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties until June 4.

Updated: On a call with journalists on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf had this to say about the next steps in the state’s ongoing reopening effort: “I think the southwest is doing a phenomenal job. And again, we’ll be making another announcement soon. And the hope is that we can move quickly there, wherever else in Pennsylvania. We’re making good progress as we make good progress with this disease to open up and keep people safe.”

Updated: Our full story on Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening announcement.

Updated: Construction, as well as golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds have resumed statewide. Gov. Tom Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine are set to hold a 2 p.m. briefing on Friday, May 1 to discuss the state’s initial round of reopenings on May 8.

Updated: Gov. Tom Wolf has announced that golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds may reopen statewide beginning on May 1.The administration also announced that hospitals may resume elective surgeries under state guidelines.

Update: Gov. Tom Wolf has announced a phased reopening of the state, starting May 8. Construction will resume May 1. And the state has now authorized online car sales.

Update: Select Pennsylvania state liquor stores opened for curbside pick-up on Monday, April 20. Full information can be found here. Also, on Sunday, April 19, the Wolf administration announced the state would begin enforcement of its mandatory mask requirement for employers and consumers. The full parameters are in this story by Correspondent Hannah McDonald.

Update: On Wednesday, April 15, the Wolf administration ordered essential businesses operating under the state’s stay-at-home order to require face masks for customers and workers. The order is effective immediately and will be enforced beginning Sunday, April 19 at 8 p.m.

Under the order, most businesses must bar non-essential visitors who are not wearing masks from the premises. And employers have to provide masks to workers or approve homemade masks for employees to wear. Workers don’t have to use the masks during meal breaks.

Meetings and training sessions should be conducted virtually, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who signed the order, said during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, and the start and end times for employees’ shifts should be staggered where possible.

The order comes a week after New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, signed an executive order mandating that all customers and employees at grocery stores and other retail outlets to wear masks, according to NorthJersey.com.

Until now, the Pennsylvania guidance on masks had been voluntary. But Levine hinted Tuesday that a reversal was imminent.

Update: Gov. Tom Wolf has placed the entire state under a stay-at-home order until at least April 30. Pennsylvania’s public and private schools, as well as colleges, are closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, while all non-essential businesses are closed indefinitely. The Pennsylvania State Police have been taking enforcement against those businesses that have refused to comply with the order.

Under the terms of the administration’s order,  Pennsylvanians may not leave their homes except to travel to essential jobs, go to the grocery store, seek medical care or exercise outside, according to official guidelines published by the Wolf administration.

Restaurants continue to offer curbside pick-up and delivery. And such essential businesses as grocery stores and gas stations remain open.

Update: Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday strengthened his orders for most Pennsylvania businesses to temporarily close their doors, using his executive power to threaten legal enforcement against those that refused to cease operations.

The broad designation applies to performing arts venues, recreation centers, entertainment venues, and general merchandise stores, which all must shutter by 8 p.m. Thursday, Wolf announced in a late afternoon press release.

State agencies including the Pennsylvania State Police began enforcing the order at 8 am on March 23, and businesses that don’t comply could face fines, citations, license revocations, or criminal prosecution, Wolf said.

The order also affects many office workplaces, including accounting businesses, law firms, real estate offices and certain administrative support services, according to a list of business classifications that accompanied the release.

Original Story:

Gov. Tom Wolf began to fully exert his executive authority in the fight against COVID-19 on Monday, when he asked for thousands of businesses to shutter or reduce their operations to reduce the spread of the virus.

At the time, the state had identified 76 cases of the disease in 14 counties across the state.  By Thursday, when the total had risen to 185 cases in 22 counties, Wolf tightened the command, threatening enforcement against “non-life sustaining” businesses that didn’t close their doors by the next day.

Wolf has the power to make the request because of a disaster declaration he issued on March 6.

Here’s the latest on what’s open, and what’s not.

Schools

On March 13, Wolf ordered schools to close for two weeks. On March 23, the administration extended the order for another week, meaning they will not reopen until April 6 at earliest. Further extensions were possible, the administration added.

Schools will not be penalized if they miss the 180 days of instruction required under state law. School districts may also continue to offer free lunch for pickup throughout the shutdown.

Wolf orders Pa. public schools closed for two weeks in response to coronavirus

Courts

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered all courts across Pennsylvania to close their doors for most business and halt evictions through at least April 3.

The order will allow judges to conduct “essential business,” including hearings for matters related to bail review, emergency child custody petitions, and protection from abuse petitions.

Liquor Stores

Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor stores closed their doors indefinitely on Tuesday. Licensed grocery stores are still selling wine and beer.

Bars and dine-in restaurants are take-out only

Wolf has asked for all restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania to close their dine-in services starting Monday, March 16. However, they can stay open to provide takeout or delivery.

His administration turned up the heat on that directive on Wednesday, when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board ordered all licensed bars, restaurants, breweries and wineries and to stop serving drinks on-site or risk having their license yanked.

John Longstreet, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, told the Capital-Star that he’d heard from some business owners who chafed at Wolf’s directive. But, facing a public health crisis, “nothing we can say or do would change that.”

Longstreet added that he has urged member restaurants to take advantage of a spike in consumers’ demand for hot food on their doorstep by establishing delivery service, if they haven’t already.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and “essential businesses” remain open

In a statement, the Wolf administration clarified that other “essential businesses” that should remain open include, but are not limited to:

  • Grocery stores, convenience stores, hardware stores and other household good retailers
  • Pharmacies, hospitals, doctors’ officers, biomedical and other medical facilities
  • Trash collection
  • Laundromats
  • Post offices and shipping outlets
  • Public transportation
  • Gas stations
  • Auto repair
  • Insurance offices and banks
  • Veterinary clinics and pet stores 
  • Hotel and commercial lodging
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Construction 
  • Food processing, agriculture and feed mills
  • Warehousing, storage, and distribution

However, the final decision always ends with the business owner.

Gyms, recreation centers, and other businesses closed

Non-essential businesses asked to close were public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities, including but not limited to:

  • Community and recreation centers, 
  • Gyms
  • Yoga, barre and spin studios
  • Hair salons, nail salons and barber shops
  • Spas
  • Casinos
  • Concert venues and theaters
  • Sporting event venues
  • Golf courses
  • Non-essential retail, such as shopping malls.

Pharmacies or other health care facilities based in retail operations should continue to stay open.

Wolf has continued to stress that his order is voluntary, and the final call belongs with the business owner. He would not, he said last week, send “the State Police of the National Guard out to do this.”

But confusion still reigns among some small business owners, according to the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Chapter president Gordon Denlinger said in a statement that he’s received questions from cleaning services, catering companies, tax services, and a military equipment manufacturer asking if they are essential or not.

“We need more clarity or a list explaining exactly what is an essential service before there is a need unmet during the virus outbreak or unnecessary financial harm to these small businesses and their employees,” Denlinger said in a statement.

The administration did throw down a gauntlet Monday night, saying in a statement that is “relying on businesses to act now before the governor or the Secretary of Health finds it necessary to compel closures under the law for the interest of public health.”

Public services

In a press release laying out coronavirus action, Wolf said Monday that public services still open will include “police, fire, emergency medical services, sanitation, and essential services for vulnerable populations.”

Other, non-essential state workers will work from home. The state is also authorizing two weeks paid absence for employees who don’t have telework capabilities.

At Monday’s press conference, Wolf said the admin was “working with all state workers to determine who’s essential, who’s non-essential.”

For example, he pointed to PennDOT employees who might not be essential now, but “if we have a snow storm, we will want people working to clear out the snow.”

In an email, an administration spokesperson added that agencies determine “which of their essential functions must continue during a disruption or office closure and the employees needed to continue the functions.”

“The designation of an employee as essential can also depend upon the circumstances for the closing and the emerging operational needs of the agency at any time.”

But according to Steve Catanese, president of Service Employees International Union Local 668, thousands of state employees started Monday morning as non-essential, and by days’ end were essential.  

SEIU 668 represents 20,000 human service workers across the state, of which, Catanese estimated, more than 6,000 will still be reporting to offices inadequately prepared for the coronavirus.

Those newly critical employees include county assistance workers, child and senior care facility inspectors, and employees who process unemployment benefits. 

“They need to figure out ways that everyone gets benefits because of how many people lost their jobs. They’re right, we agree with them,” Catanese said. “But the fact is that they thought of no potential ways to limit the harm of people going in to do the work.”

Social distancing, Catanese said, was still wanting in offices with 100 employees, flouting federal guidelines calling for no gatherings of over 10 people in a room. Some assistance offices didn’t even have hand sanitizer, he added.

He called for the state to adopt staggered shifts and to limit commutes, especially in heavily impacted counties, to keep workers safe from the pandemic.

Catanese acknowledged that some jobs were hard to do remotely due to old state IT technology, as well as new visitor screenings to keep unhealthy people out of critical offices. But his concerns stood.

“I want management to care about the public as much as they do for their staff,” Catanese said, “and I don’t feel like the staff are cared about as much.”