Wolf orders all ‘non-life-sustaining’ businesses to close; face state police action if they don’t

Governor Tom Wolf at a March 12 press conference announcing Pennsylvania's new COVID-19 response strategies. Source: Commonwealth Media Services.

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 laundromats, 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 will begin enforcing the order at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, 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.

Grocery stores, auto-repair shops, pharmacies, newspaper offices and hospitals are allowed to remain open. Restaurants must close their dining areas, but may continue offering take-out services. 

The governor had previously urged non-essential businesses across the Commonwealth to close for two weeks to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

But his latest directive, which does not have an end date, is his most severe one yet.

Wolf’s office justified the sweeping action by pointing to the state’s Emergency Management Services Code, which grants the governor extraordinary powers when Pennsylvania is under an emergency declaration, including the ability to control the flow of people into a disaster area.

The is exercising these powers to temporarily close all non-life-sustaining businesses and dine-in facilities at all restaurants and bars across the commonwealth,” Wolf’s office said in a press release. ”Persons must be removed from these premises to cope with the COVID-19 disaster emergency.”

Wolf said the state Department of Community and Economic Development is offering loans to businesses that will be affected by the forced shutdown.

Pennsylvania has already seen its unemployment claims swell in the first week of the statewide shutdown, as thousands of service employers faced reduced hours or layoffs as business ground to a halt. 

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