Some PA Businesses Remain Open Despite Coronavirus Scare

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On Thursday, as part of an effort to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf made the unprecedented decision to order all “non-life-sustaining businesses” to close by 8 p.m. or risk punishment starting Saturday. Some businesses however have struggled to come to terms with it, as well as an earlier directive that “non-essential” businesses should close. Others remain open for reasons that might not be immediately apparent.

In an effort to clarify things Wolf’s office issued a list of non-life-sustaining vs. “life-sustaining” businesses classified according to industry, but the list isn’t exhaustive and has caused confusion for many businesses, some of whom have sought waivers for it. It also led to several legal challenges and clarifications Friday, and ultimately a decision by Wolf to delay enforcement efforts til Monday due to a “high volume of waiver requests.”

One example of a business that seems to fall into a grey area with regard to the list is retail pool supply. There is no pool supply category on it under Retail Trade, although “Miscellaneous Store Retailers” that don’t fall under other categories are “non-life-sustaining” according to the list.

With more than 900 U.S. stores and a number of Lehigh Valley locations–including stores in Quakertown, Bethlehem Township and Whitehall–Leslie’s Pool Supplies, Service & Repair is one of the largest employers in the retail pool supply marketplace.

Leslie’s Pool Supplies is located at 3801 Linden Street in Bethlehem Township, Northampton County. It is one of the retailers remaining open for business in order to sell liquid chlorine, which can be used as a substitute for household bleach.

Most pools aren’t yet open, but even with the order as of Friday Leslie’s stores still were because its head says the company’s products can be used as a disinfectant in the fight against the coronavirus.

In a March 16 letter addressed to customers and published online, Leslie’s CEO Mike Egeck noted that “the CDC has recommended the use of household bleach to clean and disinfect surfaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

“Leslie’s stores sell liquid chlorine, which is approximately two times stronger than household bleach,” he said. “The bleach solution recommended by the CDC can be formulated by substituting the recommended amount of bleach with half the amount of liquid chlorine.”

The CDC website includes information on how to prepare a homemade bleach solution.

Egeck also said his company is taking the necessary precautions to protect both its employees and customers in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Those measures include increased cleaning of all Leslie’s locations, providing information from the CDC to all employees and implementing work-from-home opportunities for staff in its headquarters and regional offices.

With summer swim season only a couple of months away, customers have already had questions about how the coronavirus will react in the chlorinated water of a swimming pool.

According to Egeck’s letter, which cites CDC research, “there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be spread to humans through the use of properly maintained and sanitized pools. Proper operation, maintenance and sanitization should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Leslie’s Pool Supplies isn’t the only local pool supply retailer that has remained open for business, although some that have opted to do so have modified their hours and/or added curbside pickup for chemical purchases.

Willow Park Pools & Spas in Bethlehem said Friday it was “suspending walk in retail sales” and putting all pending deliveries on hold until Wolf’s order is lifted.

B&B Pools Inc. in Hellertown announced on their website on Thursday that “due to the restrictions of being a non-essential retail store we are closed until further notice. Our employees and customers safety is our top priority.”

“We are going to be staffing the store with limited people to answer phone calls, schedule openings, schedule service and for customers to place orders over the phone for curb side pickup,” the statement continued. “The service department will run normally as of now.”

Outside of retail, there’s been discussion over the fact that Bethlehem-based Just Born–which manufactures candy including the iconic marshmallow bunnies known as Peeps–is staying open as a “life-sustaining business.”

In his announcement of his order Thursday, Wolf said he made the “difficult decision” to partially pull the plug on Pennsylvania’s economy in order to help save lives.

On Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania topped 300, and so far there has been one recorded death–in Northampton County–from the illness.

Businesses that need clarification on whether they are considered life-sustaining or non-life-sustaining should email the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development at ra-dcedcs@pa.gov.

To access the waiver request form, click here.

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