Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday announced a sweeping new order signed by state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, which he said will help keep frontline workers as well as customers safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The new order requires businesses to ensure a safe environment to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Wolf said in announcing it via his Twitter feed.
Among the order’s mandates is one that will require workers in essential businesses such as grocery stores to wear masks while at work, except to the extent that they are using break time to eat or drink. Customers will also now be required to wear masks when shopping or visiting a business that serves the public within a building or a defined area, with the exception of health care providers.
According to the order, which takes effect at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 19, businesses must “require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks, unless the business is providing medication, medical supplies or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of such goods.” There is an exception in the order for “individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children under the age of 2 years per CDC guidance)” which it says “may enter the premises and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition.”
Employers are also now required to provide masks for their workers who must wear them, although they have the option of approving “masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with (Department of Health and CDC) guidance,” the order noted.
Some companies doing business in Pennsylvania, such as Fresh Market, have already made it a requirement for both workers and customers to wear face coverings, and in nearby states like New Jersey, it was already mandated that members of the public wear masks or face coverings when inside retail establishments.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo went further Wednesday by ordering anyone who cannot maintain six feet of distance from others while in public to mask up, with compliance required by April 18.
New York leads the nation both in the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and in the number of deaths. As of Wednesday, more than 200,000 New Yorkers had tested positive for the virus–out of approximately 600,000 confirmed cases nationwide–and more than 11,000 residents of the Empire State had died from the disease.
New Jersey has the second highest number of both cases and deaths.
As of Wednesday, Pennsylvania was among the top five U.S. states for confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and it ranked eighth among the 50 states for deaths from it.
The Department of Health reported 1,145 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, which brought the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania to more than 26,000. To date there have been nearly 700 deaths from it across the state, including 50 deaths in the Lehigh Valley. Together, Lehigh (1,922) and Northampton (1,251) counties account for approximately 12 percent of the cases in Pennsylvania, according to state Department of Health data.
After declining daily totals, both counties saw increases in the numbers of new cases they reported Wednesday, the data indicated. Meanwhile, the state’s total number of new cases was essentially flat.
Wolf previously recommended that all Pennsylvanians were face coverings or masks while in public, but has not mandated their use by members of the public, and the order noted that he continues to recommend that everyone wear a mask any time they leave their homes for life-sustaining reasons. Residents are only permitted to leave home for life-sustaining reasons under Wolf’s current stay-at-home order, which is in effect until at least April 30.
Wolf noted that under the new order, there will be both enforcement and possible penalties for anyone found to be in violation of any part of it.
Failure to comply with the requirements may result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines or license suspensions, his news release said, before noting that “the governor has directed the following state agencies and local officials to enforce orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic to the full extent of the law: Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor and Industry, Pennsylvania State Police (and) local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions.”
“This order will ensure continuity across all life-sustaining businesses and will further our efforts to protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians,” Levine said in the news release. “Together, we can all help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Other requirements for business and industry outlined in the order Levine said will help employees maintain social distance and further contain the disease’s spread, and include:
- Staggering work start and stop times for employees when practical to prevent gatherings of large groups entering or leaving a work premises at the same time.
- Providing sufficient space for employees to have breaks and meals while maintaining a social distance of six feet. For example, companies will be required to rearrange seating in order to prevent employees from sitting directly across from one another if doing so would put them within six feet of each other.
- Conducting meetings and training virtually. If a meeting must be held in person, the meeting should be limited to the fewest number of employees possible, not to exceed 10 employees at a time and with employees maintaining a social distance of six feet from each other.
- Ensuring that work facilities have a sufficient number of employees to perform all measures listed effectively and in a manner that ensures the safety of the public and employees.
- Ensuring that businesses have a sufficient number of personnel to control access, maintain order and enforce social distancing of at least six feet.
- Prohibiting non-essential visitors from entering the premises of the business.
- Ensuring that all employees who do not speak English as their first language are aware of procedures by communicating the procedures, either orally or in writing, in their native or preferred language.
There are also now specific requirements for businesses that employ someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, under the order.
“Upon discovery of an exposure to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, businesses are also ordered to implement temperature screenings before employees enter the business prior to the start of work and send any employee home who has an elevated temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher,” Wolf’s release said.
“Employers are encouraged to implement liberal paid time off for employees who are on home isolation,” it added.
“This order provides critical protections for the workers needed to run and operate these life-sustaining establishments,” Wolf said in the news release. “Businesses across the state have already begun to implement many of these protocols on their own, and we applaud their efforts to protect employees and customers.”
Other stipulations for businesses with in-person operations (other than health care providers) that are enumerated in Levine’s order include the following, many of which have been implemented voluntarily by grocery and convenience stores in recent weeks:
- Where feasible, businesses should conduct business with the public by appointment only. To the extent that this is not feasible, businesses must limit occupancy to no greater than 50 percent of the number stated on the applicable certificate of occupancy at any given time, as necessary to reduce crowding in the business. Businesses must maintain a social distance of six feet at check-out and cou nter lines, and must place signage throughout each site to mandate social distancing for both customers and employees.
- Based on the building size and number of employees, businesses are ordered to alter their hours of business so there is sufficient time to clean or restock or both.
- Install shields or other barriers at registers and check-out areas to physically separate cashiers and customers or take other measures to ensure social distancing of customers from checkout personnel, or close lines to maintain a social distance between of six feet between lines.
- Encourage the use of online ordering by providing delivery or pick-up options.
- Designate a specific time for high-risk and elderly persons to use the business at least once every week if there is a continuing in-person customer-facing component to the business.
- In businesses with multiple checkout lines, businesses are mandated to only use every other register, or fewer. After every hour, they will be required to rotate customers and employees to the previously closed registers. They are also required to clean the previously open registers and surrounding areas, including credit card machines, following each rotation.
- Schedule handwashing breaks for employees at least once every hour.
- Where carts and handbaskets are available for customers’ use, assign an employee to wipe down carts and handbaskets before they become available to each customer entering the premises.
To read the extensive order in its entirety, click here.