COVID-19 update: 'Non-life-sustaining' businesses in PA must close at 8 p.m. tonight

Milford. Also beginning tonight: enforcement actions against bars and restaurants that allow patrons on their premises. "Persons must be removed from these premises to cope with the COVID-19 disaster emergency," the Wolf administration said. These measures come as new cases surge in Pennsylvania, which reports its first death from coronavirus. Cases in Orange County, N.Y., rise to 68 as New York State becomes the United States' new epicenter.

19 Mar 2020 | 07:56

Thursday, March 19

Restrictions increase, enforcement begins

All "non-life-sustaining" businesses in Pennsylvania must close by 8 p.m. tonight, according to an order from the governor's office.

Also starting at 8 p.m. tonight is enforcement actions against restaurants and bars not in compliance with Gov. Tom Wolf's order last week to close service on their premises.

"Persons must be removed from these premises to cope with the COVID-19 disaster emergency," the Wolf administration said in a statement today.

Enforcement against Wolf's new order will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, March 21.

In extenuating circumstances, special exemptions will be granted to businesses that are supplying or servicing health care providers.

“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 to act with the strength we use against any other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.”

The governor had previously encouraged non-life-sustaining businesses to close to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Wolf issued a list of life-critical businesses that may remain open, including health care and social-assistance businesses, except child day care; most transit systems except for charter buses and “scenic and sightseeing," and crop and animal farming, food and beverage manufacturing, grocery stores, utilities, and telecommunications.

Food establishments can offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service, including alcohol.

The Emergency Management Services Code grants the governor extraordinary powers upon his declaration of a disaster emergency like COVID-19. Among these powers, the governor may control the ingress and egress into the disaster area, the movement of persons, and the occupancy of premises within the disaster area, which encompasses the entire state.

The secretary of health separately is authorized under the law to employ measures necessary to prevent and suppress the disease.

Failure to comply will result in citations, fines, or license suspensions.  State agencies and local officials to enforce the closure orders include the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, and the Pennsylvania State Police. Noncompliant businesses will forfeit their ability to receive applicable disaster relief or may lose state loans or grants.

Criminal charges may be brought for noncompliance, and the health department may impose quarantine, isolation or other disease control measures.

The new order comes as the state reached 185 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and its first death, an adult from Northampton County.

"Our notable increase in cases over the last few days and our first death in Pennsylvania indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously," said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. "Pennsylvanians have a very important job right now: stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We have seen case counts continue to increase and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home."

Cases blow up in Orange County

One week ago today, Orange County, N.Y., across the river from Pike County, Pa., announced its first case of the novel coronavirus.

By Monday there were seven cases in Orange County. Today there are 68.

New York State is the new epicenter of COVID-19 infection in the United States, with 4,152 cases, up from 950 on Monday, a fourfold increase.

Thirty counties have new cases this week, said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New York has more than three times as many cases as the next-closest state, Washington, which up until this week was the U.S. epicenter.

Cuomo signed an executive order today mandating businesses to decrease their in-office workforce by 75 percent, with exceptions made for essential services. These include the shipping industry, warehouses, grocery and food production, pharmacies, media, banks and related financial institutions, and businesses essential to the supply chain. This follows the governor’s directive yesterday that all businesses implement work-from-home policies.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be disruptive, but we will get through this together,” said Cuomo. “We know what we have to do to contain the spread of this virus -- reduce density and person to person contact -- and based on new facts we are getting every day, we’re taking further steps to keep more New Yorkers at home while keeping essential services running.”

Tristate tallies:
Here follows the number of positive cases in the tristate area and beyond as of March 19:
New York State: 4,152
Orange County, N.Y: 68
Sullivan County, N.Y. 3
Pennsylvania: 185
Pike County, Pa.: 2
Wayne County, Pa.: 1
Monroe County, Pa.: 7
New Jersey: 742, 9 deaths
USA: 13,159, 200 deaths