Governor Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations by 8 p.m. Thursday in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s declaration that the novel coronavirus is a “public health emergency of international concern” and his own declaration of a disaster emergency in the Commonwealth on March 6, Wolf officially declared that all non-life-sustaining businesses were to close their physical locations by 8 p.m. Thursday so as to limit public exposure to the virus.
“We have no time to lose,” Wolf said in a video statement. “With every moment that passes, more Pennsylvanians come into contact with the COVID-19 virus. The spread of COVID-19 is increasing at an exponential pace. We cannot allow this virus to overwhelm our hospitals.”
“Life-sustaining businesses” include establishments such as grocery stores, gas stations, public utilities, waste collection and more, whereas “non-life-sustaining businesses” include mining operations, construction, automotive dealerships, schools and numerous other examples.
The order will remain in effect until further notice, according to Wolf.
As of Thursday, there have been 185 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Pennsylvania, including 15 cases in Monroe County.
Enforcement of Wolf’s order – which could include citations, fines or license suspensions for non-life-sustaining businesses that do not close their physical locations – will go into effect at 12:01 a.m., Saturday, March 21. Businesses that fail to comply may also forfeit their ability to collect any applicable disaster relief.
According to Wolf, the order will be enforced by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania State Police, and local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions.
Restaurants and bars had already been instructed to end dine-in service due to the pandemic, and enforcement for establishments that held a liquor license began on March 18. Enforcement for all other restaurants will begin Thursday at 8 p.m.
“To protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, we need to take more aggressive mitigation actions,” said Gov. Wolf. “This virus is an invisible danger that could be present everywhere. We need toactwith the strength we useagainstany other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.”
Life-sustaining businesses, along with virtual and work-from-home businesses, may remain open, though Wolf’s administration states that at minimum, practices such as social distancing and other mitigation efforts must be put into place.
Restaurants are still permitted to offer take-out, delivery and drive-through service.
The governor previously encouraged what he called “non-essential businesses” to close in order to stem the spread of the virus earlier this week, though it was noted that he would not expend forces from the state police or the National Guard to enforce the suggestion.
Wolf’s announcement also included references to business loans and support from agencies such as the Department of Community and Economic Development and the U.S. Small Business Association in order to help business owners through the pandemic.
“To the businesses that have already complied, I extend to you my deepest gratitude, and I look forward to the cooperation of everyone else,” Wolf said. “By working together we can prevent the spread of COVID-19, ultimately saving lives. Thank you for your patience and continued cooperation as we navigate this difficult situation.”