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Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response


Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response

March 19, 2020
Caroline J. Berdzik

Key Takeaways:

  • Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia put restrictions on business activity to help reduce the spread of COVID-19

  • Pennsylvania workers may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits if their employer is closed (temporary or otherwise) due to COVID-19

  • Philadelphia is offering new, amended, and expanded business and worker relief programs to support those impacted

As of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts are effective throughout all 67 counties in the commonwealth, continuing for 14 days. These efforts include:

  • All non-essential businesses across the commonwealth are strongly encouraged to close for at least 14 days. Per the commonwealth’s website, such non-essential businesses include public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities, including but not limited to community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, barre and spin facilities; hair salons and barber shops, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; sporting event venues and golf courses; retail facilities, including shopping malls except for pharmacy or other health care facilities within retail operations
  • All restaurants and bars should close their dine-in facilities. Businesses that offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service may continue to do so but eating and drinking inside restaurants and bars is temporarily prohibited
  • A no-visitor policy for correctional facilities and nursing homes has been implemented and will be evaluated for other facilities
  • Freedom of travel will remain, but all Pennsylvanians are asked to refrain from non-essential travel
  • All child care centers licensed by the commonwealth close as of March 17, 2020 and will be re-evaluated at the conclusion of the 14-day statewide closures
  • Adult day care centers, adult training facilities, provocations facilities, LIFE centers and senior community centers close beginning March 17, 2020 and will be re-evaluated at the conclusion of the 14-day statewide closures
  • All K-12 schools in Pennsylvania will be closed for 10 business days beginning on March 16, 2020
  • Essential state, county, and municipal services will be open: police, fire, emergency medical services, sanitation, and essential services for vulnerable populations
  • Supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations will remain open

Essential services and sectors that may remain open include, but are not limited to:

  • Food processing
  • Agriculture
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Feed mills
  • Construction
  • Trash collection
  • Grocery and household goods (including convenience stores)
  • Home repair/hardware and auto repair
  • Pharmacy and other medical facilities
  • Biomedical and healthcare
  • Post offices and shipping outlets
  • Insurance
  • Banks
  • Gas stations
  • Laundromats
  • Veterinary clinics and pet stores
  • Warehousing
  • Storage
  • Distribution
  • Public transportation
  • Hotel and commercial lodging

Other businesses, including but not limited to legal services, business and management consulting, professional services and insurance services are encouraged to have employees work remotely or telecommute.

Unemployment Compensation (UC)

Pennsylvania workers may be eligible for UC benefits if their employer is closed (temporary or otherwise) because of COVID-19. Workers who have their hours reduced as a result of the virus, or are out from work due to quarantine related to the virus, may also be eligible for UC benefits.

In addition, work search and work registration requirements for UC claimants have been temporarily suspended. The waiting week requirement has also been temporarily suspended. This means that new claimants who are approved for UC benefits will receive payment for their first week of unemployment.

Philadelphia Restrictions on Business Activity to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19

On March 16, 2020, the city of Philadelphia announced new restrictions on commercial activity, and a halt to all non-essential city government operations, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Philadelphia.

The following changes on commercial activity went into effect at 5:00 p.m. on March 16, 2020 (an end date for the restrictions was not provided). Only essential commercial establishments should remain open. To allow for essential goods to be accessible to the public, the city of Philadelphia designates the following businesses as essential:

  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Big box stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Discount stores, mini-markets, and non-specialized food stores
  • Daycare centers
  • Hardware stores
  • Gas stations
  • Banks
  • Post Offices
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Veterinary clinics for domestic pets and pet stores

Also deemed essential are commercial establishments that sell any of the following:

  • Frozen products
  • Non-specialized stores of computers, telecommunications equipment, audio and video consumer electronics, household appliances
  • IT and telecommunication equipment
  • Hardware, paint, flat glass
  • Electrical, plumbing and heating material
  • Automotive fuel
  • Domestic fuel
  • Sanitary equipment
  • Personal hygiene products medication not requiring medical prescription
  • Medical and orthopedic equipment
  • Optics and photography equipment
  • Soaps and detergents

Food establishments may only accommodate online and phone orders for delivery and pick-up, and cannot allow dine-in service, for the duration of these restrictions.

Non-essential city of Philadelphia government operations are halted, and all city government buildings will be closed to the public, effective March 17, 2020. Essential city operations will include public safety, health and human services, utilities, sanitation, and payroll.

Update: On March 17, 2020, the mayor of Philadelphia issued an emergency order temporarily prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses, which confirms the above described restrictions. Furthermore, the order provides for various remedies for any failure to comply with the order, including the issuance of orders to cease operations and penalties.

Expansion of Paid Sick Leave

The city’s Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, otherwise known as the sick leave law, has been expanded so that covered workers can use their paid sick leave for COVID-19 related business closures, quarantine, and to stay home with their children during school closures without fear of retaliation.

Business and worker relief

The city and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) will launch a program to support Philadelphia businesses, help maintain payroll obligations, and preserve jobs impacted by the spread of COVID-19.

The program will be a tiered program that aims to provide targeted support for small businesses. The program will include a mix of new grants and zero-interest loans for Philadelphia businesses that make under $5 million in annual revenue. PIDC will continue to offer its existing lending programs for small and midsize businesses on flexible terms to provide working capital, fund contract receivables, refinance high-interest debt, and meet other needs.

More details about the program, including how businesses can apply, will be announced in the coming days.

In response to the COVID-19 health emergency, the Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance will not be enforcing predictability pay as of the April 1, 2020 effect date of the Fair Workweek law until further notice. However, employers are still expected to comply with other portions of the law. The city, through the Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance, will continue to work with businesses on compliance during this difficult and constantly-evolving situation.

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