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Essential vs. Nonessential Businesses During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis

On Monday, March 16th, Governor Wolf ordered nonessential Pennsylvania businesses to shut down beginning Tuesday, March 17th.  The shutdown is expected to last at least two weeks.  The Governor's Press release has defined nonessential businesses as including "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."

Further, the Governor has ordered that all restaurants and bars close their dine-in facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 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. These businesses offering carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage should employ social distancing best practices and be aware of the Trump Administration’s guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

Per the Governor's press release, essential services and sectors include but are not limited to food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, feed mills, construction, trash collection, grocery and household goods (including convenience stores and other retailers with operations that include grocery or pharmacy operations), 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 and distribution, public transportation, and hotel and commercial lodging.  Although these businesses may remain open, the Wolf Administration continues to encourage them to employ social distancing practices, and encourages Pennsylvanians to be thoughtful in their visits.

The Governor has encouraged some businesses, including but not limited to legal services, business and management consulting, professional services and insurance services to have employees work remotely or telecommute. If that is not possible, they should employ social distancing best practices and be aware of the Trump Administration’s guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

For listed essential services (and other businesses which believe they are essential services) and plan to continue operating, there are some basic steps that should be taken.  The focus of the closures ordered has been to minimize social interaction and contact to slow the spread of the virus.  With this in mind, any business that is continuing to operate should utilize remote workers to the maximum extent practicable and, where workers must be onsite, social distancing should be utilized wherever possible.  Businesses should minimize physical contact and proximity between employees and customers as well as just between employees.  Physical staff meetings should be replaced with conference calls.  Employee travel should be minimized as much as possible.  Employers should also consider reducing staffing levels and/or expanding operating hours and keeping different shifts isolated from one another to minimize potential disease transmission among your workforce.  Also, where employee and customer contact cannot be eliminated, it is critically important to follow the governmental recommendations on hygiene including hand washing and use of sanitizers. 

It is important to recognize that if one employee gets diagnosed with COVID-19, it will likely be necessary to have all employees who had close contact with that individual self-quarantine until broader testing can be obtained and results come back.  This is likely to result in significant additional business interruption.

To date, Governor Wolf has ordered these closings and has counted on business owners to do the responsible thing and voluntarily shut down.  He has also made it abundantly clear that he will use law enforcement to pursue forced closings if necessary.  Please also understand that this is a very fluid situation and the list of closures could be further expanded on short notice.  Ultimately, if society broadly follows the social distancing and hygiene recommendations, it will greatly shorten the time horizon until these restrictions can start to be relaxed.

Please continue to check our Coronavirus Resource Center for updates as things change.