Pa. started enforcing its mask rules on Sunday: Here’s what businesses, consumers need to know

On Sunday night, the state Department of Health started enforcing its order requiring employees and customers of life-sustaining businesses statewide to wear masks.

“COVID-19 is a threat to the public’s health, for which the Secretary of Health may order general control measures, including, but not limited to, closure, isolation, and quarantine,” the Department of Health said in a statement.

“Based upon the manner of COVID-19’s continued and extensive spread in the Commonwealth and in the world, and its danger to Pennsylvanians,” State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine wrote in the order, “I have determined that an additional appropriate disease control measure is the further direction of safety measures for all employees and visitors at life-sustaining businesses that have remained open during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.”

Here are the key things, according to Levine, that business owners need to keep in mind: 

  • If a business is exposed to COVID-19, management must “close off areas visited by the person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilation fans to increase air circulation in the area. Wait a minimum of 24 hours, or as long as practical, before beginning cleaning and disinfection,” Levine wrote in that April 15 order. . “Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas including but not limited to employee break rooms, conference or training rooms and dining facilities, shared electronic equipment like tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines used by the ill person, focusing especially on frequently touched areas.” 
  • Businesses must also stagger shift start and end times as well as breaks to lower the amount of people congregating in common areas. The department is asking businesses to arrange seating so no persons are facing one another, rather seated side by side in break rooms and other employee spaces.
  • Should an employee be diagnosed with COVID-19, the business must notify any other employees the patient has been in close contact with from about 48 hours prior to symptom onset to the time the individual went into isolation, wrote Levine. 
  • Close contact is defined by the department as “within about 6 feet for about 10 minutes.” 

To clarify these new orders, the department released a Q&A providing tips for businesses to follow.  Some are as follows:

  1. The 24-hour wait period is mandatory. 
  2. Businesses can use a new or pre-established third party cleaning service to sanitize facilities. 
  3. The state is not requiring a specific kind of mask. “Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with Department of Health guidance. Customers may utilize masks obtained or made in accordance with Department of Health guidance. Scarves, bandanas, or other face covering will suffice in place of a mask,” wrote the Department of Health.
  4. Disposable face shields work in lieu of masks. 
  5. Masks are required at all job sights — even banks — unless one obscures vision while working. “An employee does not need to wear a mask if it impedes their vision, if they have a medical condition, or would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.” 
  6. Customers who refuse to wear masks can be turned away. 
  7. Masks are not required to drive alone to work unless an individual should come into contact with another person (i.e. toll booth workers). 
  8. Employees isolated in their workspace (example: private office) need not wear a mask unless they come into contact with coworkers. 

More about the COVID business protocol can  be found here. 

Correspondent Hannah McDonald covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow her on Twitter @HannahMcD0nald.