At a “virtual” press conference Monday afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf requested a two week statewide shutdown of nonessential stores.
News of the pending shutdown broke around 1:00 p.m. when Spotlight PA published a report citing three sources who had said Gov. Wolf would be expanding the shutdown previously limited to Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.
The decision will accelerate social distancing measures in Lebanon County, which proliferated over the past week.
The mitigation efforts are being expended to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients. Effective at midnight Monday, March 16, all non-essential stores are to close in Pennsylvania, as well as bars and restaurants except for takeout. Essential services—medical facilities, grocery stores, trash collection, etc—will remain open.
The Department of Health offered this guidance on the types of businesses that should temporarily cease operations:
- Community and recreation centers
- Gyms, including yoga/spin/barre facilities
- Hair salons, nail salons, and spas
- Casinos, concert venues, and theaters
- Sporting events facilities and golf courses
- Non-essential retail facilities, including shopping malls (except for pharmacy or other health care facilities located therein)
Wolf said he expects the measure to remain in place at least two weeks.
“Stay calm, stay safe, stay home,” said Wolf. “We’re going to get through this.”
During the press conference, the state health website was intermittently unavailable.
In response to a question from a reporter, Wolf said that he would not force businesses to close. He suggested that this was a public health issue and closing was what business owners “ought” to do.
“This is not your government mandating anything,” said Wolf, noting that, “We’re all in this together.”
Wolf said he was not considering using the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Wolf said that some PennDOT centers had been shut down to protect employees, but not all yet. He brought up whether the federal REAL ID deadline would be pushed back given the circumstances. Wolf also said that the date of the presidential primary may be pushed back.
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that it was seeking for medical providers to send tests of cases involving milder cases to private testing companies like Quest Diagnostics.
“The Governor timed his announcement to coincide with when House Republicans were in discussion inside the capitol,” said state Representative Russ Diamond (R-102) when asked about the press conference in an email. “Therefore, I am not yet clear on what he announced, or to whom it applies.”
“Beyond that, I have found his impositions on privately-owned businesses to be troubling and confusing to the general public. I am pleased that the House has now approved a temporary rule allowing us to vote remotely so we can serve as a check to unilateral action from the Governor.”
State Representative Frank Ryan (R-101) also reacted to the news in an email to LebTown. “I truly understand the seriousness of the current situation however we as a legislature must monitor the use of emergency powers the governor believes that he has,” said Rep. Ryan. “We have three branches of government and I am sworn to uphold our citizens rights and our Constitution.”
“This a precedent that we must all be prepared to deal with seriously and with great deliberation while we overcome the fears associated with COVID-19. I continue to encourage our fellow citizens to remain calm and try to minimize the disruption that this is causing to your families while we defeat this medical crisis.”
LebTown will be updating this post as more details emerge about the impact of the shutdown on Lebanon County.
This post has been updated with comment from local officials.