Governor orders non-life-sustaining businesses to shut down

A person window shops at an temporary closed business in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Pennsylvania reported another big jump in confirmed coronavirus Thursday. The state Department of Health reported that cases topped 180, up 40%.

HARRISBURG – The state has received 15,092 requests for waivers from Gov. Tom Wolf’s order that “non-life-sustaining” businesses close to slow the spread of coronavirus, Department of Community and Economic Development spokeswoman Casey Smith said Tuesday.

At the end of business Monday, the agency had approved 2,486 waiver requests, denied 2,135 and determined that 1,279 business that had sought waivers didn’t need them, Smith said. That leaves almost 9,200 waivers still pending.

Also Tuesday, state police announced that they’d handed out 27 warnings to businesses for violating Wolf’s order. Enforcement began on Monday.

“As expected, we found the overwhelming majority of people and businesses across the commonwealth are voluntarily complying with the order and doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Colonel Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “This process is two-phased, beginning with warnings to gain voluntary compliance, followed by enforcement as necessary.”

Wolf announced last week that non-essential businesses statewide should close their doors. Essential businesses include about 150 different business categories, including grocery and convenience stores, auto repair shops, pharmacies, medical facilities, trucking and food production.

Non-essential businesses are allowed to continue to operate if their employees are working remotely.

Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, said lawmakers are getting flooded with inquiries from business owners trying to determine if they would qualify for waivers. He called on the governor to release specific information about which businesses have been granted waivers.

“We ask the governor to please publicly post all waivers granted to businesses to keep operating as an essential business,” Turzai said. “Our members are getting numerous complaints and asking guidance.”

In addition to the statewide order, the governor on Monday added a shelter-in-place order for residents in the parts of the state hit hardest by the outbreak, including Philadelphia, and suburban areas outside the city, Monroe County in northeastern Pennsylvania and Allegheny County. Those areas account for almost three-quarters of the coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania, according to Department of Health data.

However, coronavirus has been detected in 40 of the state’s 67 counties, according to the Department of Health.

As part of the statewide mitigation effort, the Wolf Administration offered businesses the chance to appeal to the state to get added to the list of essential businesses.

Smith said businesses are expected to remain closed until the state determines they are eligible for a waiver to reopen.

“DCED staff are working to process them as quickly as possible,” she said.

Since Wolf announced the statewide mitigation effort, DCED has made dozens of changes to the list of essential businesses, Smith said.

That included adding 21 business sectors to the list of businesses considered life-sustaining, including coal mining, logging, laundry services, and insurance agencies. In addition, the agency posted another 20 clarifications in the guidance, such as: while most construction activity is halted, emergency repairs are allowed; while most clothing stores are closed, uniform shops are allowed to remain open; and janitorial, pest control and landscaping services are allowed.

Waivers are being granted based on “the guiding principle of balancing public safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services,” according to DCED.

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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