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Responding to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania

Responding to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania

Last updated 3:15pm, April 7, 2020

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person-to-person. This virus was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

All Pennsylvanians have an important role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. Here are resources to help individuals, families, and businesses do their part.

Keep checking back. This guide will be kept up to date as resources and information change.

You can find up-to-date information about cases in Pennsylvania at on.pa.gov/coronavirus.

Popular Resources

Cases in Pennsylvania

The Department of Health COVID-19 website is updated daily with total cases, number of counties with cases, and number of positive and negative tests.

Here is a map of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania:

Stay at Home Order

All 67 Pennsylvania counties are now under a Stay at Home order through April 30.

All individuals in counties subject to this policy must STAY AT HOME except for certain essential activities and work to provide life-sustaining business and government services.

See Governor Wolf’s order and the Secretary of Health’s order.

Law enforcement officers should refer to Business Closure Order Enforcement Guidance available online here.

Allowable Activities and Travel

Allowable Individual Activities

Individuals may leave their residence ONLY to perform any of the following allowable individual
activities and allowable essential travel.

  • Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including, but not limited to, pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home.
  • Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves or their family or household members, or to
    deliver those services or supplies to others, such as getting food and household consumer
    products, pet food, and supplies necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential
    operation of residences. This includes volunteer efforts to distribute meals and other life-sustaining services to those in need.
  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing.
  • To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business (see below for details about life-sustaining business activities).
  • To care for a family member or pet in another household.
Allowable Essential Travel
  • Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities (see below for details about life-sustaining business activities).
  • Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable
    persons.
  • Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services.
  • Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction.
  • Travel required by law enforcement or court order.
  • Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth.
  • Anyone performing life-sustaining travel does not need paperwork to prove the reason for travel.

Exemptions

Life-sustaining Business Activities

Life-sustaining business activities are exempt from this policy. On March 19, Governor Wolf ordered the closure of the physical locations of businesses that are not critical to sustaining life in a pandemic.

Businesses can determine whether they are considered a life-sustaining business, and are therefore
allowed to continue in-person, physical operations, by first referring to the Governor’s Order and the list of life-sustaining business which is available here. This list has been updated to conform with guidance on Essential Critical Infrastructure issued by the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency advisory.

If the answer remains unclear, businesses may email the Department of Community and Economic
Development (DCED) for further assistance at the following email account: ra-dcedcs@pa.gov. Inquiries
will be answered as promptly as possible.

This exemption is subject to continuance of and compliance with the social distancing and other mitigation measures to protect employees and the public, including virtual and telework operations (e.g. work from home) as the primary option when available.

State and Local Governments

Governments should use best judgment in exercising their authorities and issuing implementation
directives and guidance. All such decisions should appropriately balance public health and safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical services and functions. Government employees and contractors should continue to operate under the direction of their supervisors.

Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

Individuals experiencing homelessness are not subject to this policy but are strongly urged to find shelter and government agencies are urged to take steps needed to provide shelter for those individuals.

Displaced Students

International students, foster youth, and any other students who would otherwise experience displacement or homelessness as a result of campus closures are exempt from this policy and may remain in campus housing.

Additional Guidance

Additionally, nothing in this policy shall be construed to affect the operations of:

  • Health care or medical service providers.
  • Access to life-sustaining services for low-income residents, including, but not limited to, food banks.
  • Access to child care services for employees of life-sustaining businesses that remain open as follows: child care facilities operating under the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning waiver process; group and family child care operating in a residence; and part-day school age programs operating under an exemption from the March 19, 2020 business closure Orders.
  • The news media.
  • Law enforcement.
  • The federal government.
  • Religious institutions. However, religious leaders are encouraged to find alternatives to in-person gatherings and to avoid endangering their congregants. Individuals should not gather in religious buildings or homes for services or celebrations until the stay at home order is lifted.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is a Stay at Home order different than previous mitigation efforts?

Previously our focus was placed on institutions (education, businesses, etc.). People were encouraged to stay at home and non-life-sustaining businesses and schools were ordered to close.

While those focuses continue, this effort focuses on individuals. We want to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their homes to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling life-sustaining services to continue.

How does this order compare to those made in New Jersey, Ohio, and other states?

Pennsylvania’s order is through at least April 30, whereas the orders in other states may vary in duration.

Pennsylvania has already taken action to close the physical locations of non-life-sustaining businesses, which is part of many of the other state’s orders.

Does this align with Philadelphia’s Stay at Home order?

The orders are compatible.

Are people going to be cited for leaving their homes?

No. People will not be cited for leaving their homes.

Additionally, people are not required to carry written authorization to travel for the purposes allowed under the order.

How will this order be enforced?

Law enforcement is focused on ensuring residents are aware of the Stay at Home order and informing the public of social distancing practices and while the order is mandatory, voluntary compliance is preferred.

Law enforcement maintains discretion to warn or issue citations, and their decision is specific to the facts and circumstances of each particular encounter.

What does this order mean for life-sustaining businesses?

Life-sustaining business activities must abide by this order, but they are permitted to maintain physical operations in support of providing life-sustaining goods and services, while abiding by social distancing and other mitigation measures to ensure employee health and safety.

Are people permitted to travel and do they need an official letter or notification to travel?

Individuals are permitted to travel:

  • To return home from an outside jurisdiction including out of state.
  • As required by a law enforcement court order.
  • To perform tasks essential to maintain health and safety for themselves, their households or household members (including pets).

Official letters or notifications are NOT required to travel.

What does this mean for county and local governments?

Governments should use their best judgment in exercising their authorities and issuing implementation directives and guidance.

All such decisions should appropriately balance public health and safety, while ensuring the continued delivery of critical services and functions. Government employees and contractors should continue to operate under the direction of their supervisors.

How does this order affect the order to close non-life-sustaining businesses?

The Stay at Home order builds on our previous efforts. For now, it is targeted to specific counties where community spread is assumed. The governor’s and Secretary of Health’s existing orders regarding business closures remain in full effect.

Does the governor’s Stay at Home order affect child custody orders?

No, the governor’s Stay at Home order does not change or overrule custody orders or agreements. Those orders will continue to govern where the child will reside.

More broadly, a parent should not use the crisis as an excuse to violate court-ordered custody arrangements. If you feel you have an emergency reason (compromised health, etc.), the courts are open for emergency petitions.

Universal Masking

On April 3, Governor Wolf recommended that all Pennsylvanians wear a mask if they must leave their homes.

Members of the general public don’t need a surgical mask – we need those for our health care workers and first responders. Instead, they are encouraged to wear homemade fabric or cloth masks.

Homemade masks limit the spread of infectious droplets in the air by containing coughs and sneezes.
When a homemade mask can’t be acquired a scarf or bandana can be utilized. By implementing
community use of these homemade fabric or cloth masks, everyone will have a higher degree of
protection from this virus.

When to Wear a Mask

Those who are staying home and have no close contacts who are infected with COIVID-19 don’t
need a mask most of the time. However, wearing a nonmedical or homemade mask may be helpful
in certain situations or for certain populations.

  • Shopping at essential businesses, like grocery stores or pharmacies.
  • While visiting your health care provider.
  • Traveling on public transportation.
  • Interacting with customers/clients at essential businesses.
  • When feeling sick, coughing, or sneezing.

Because homemade masks protect everyone else from the droplets created by the wearer, it is
important that as many people as possible wear these masks when leaving their homes.

This helps prevent those who may be infectious but are only mildly symptomatic or not symptomatic from spreading the virus to others in the community.

Everyone should remember the phrase: “My mask protects you, your mask protects me.” By increasing the overall number of people who are containing their coughs, sneezes, and other droplets, it will help us control the overall spread of the virus.

Best Practices for Homemade Masks

The best practices for making and wearing fabric or cloth masks include:

  • Consider buying materials online to avoid exposure in public places.
  • Purchase masks made by small businesses, saving medical masks for health care workers.
  • Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • The mask should fit snugly around the mouth and nose.
  • If the mask has a metal wire it should be fitted snuggly to the bridge of the nose.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it, if you do wash your hands with soap and water or
    alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Made out of two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric.
  • Be discarded or washed after every use.
  • Should not be worn damp or when wet from spit or mucus.
  • To remove the mask: remove it from behind, do not touch the front of mask.
  • The wearer should immediately wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after
    removing the mask.

How to Make a Homemade Mask

Here’s how to make a mask at home.

Materials needed:

  • Fabric (100% cotton is most effective)
  • Fabric Ties
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine or a needle and thread

Instructions:

  • Measure and cut two pieces of fabric in a rectangle pattern to fit snugly around the face (size
    12 inches by 6 inches is standard for adults).
  • Tightly sew both layers together on all edges.
  • Cut fabric ties to fit around the ears.
  • Sew the ties to the insides of the mask on the smaller edge, repeat on both sides.
  • Resew the sides to ensure a tight seal between both pieces of fabric and the earpiece.

Check out this New York Times article for more tips on how to make your own homemade mask.

On Medical Masks

Do not purchase masks designed for health care professionals. N95 and surgical masks are designed
to protect those who are working in high risk situations with a likelihood of exposure. Instead, make
your own mask or purchase one from an online small business.

Businesses should consider purchasing homemade or cloth masks for their employees as part of their
uniform or in recognition of good public health practices. Businesses should also consider non-punitive policies that encourage employees to wear masks while at work.

Find out more about the difference between homemade masks and masks for health care professionals.

For Individuals

Unemployment Compensation

If you are employed in Pennsylvania and are unable to work because of COVID-19, you may be eligible for Unemployment Compensation (UC) or Workers’ Compensation (WC) benefits.

The following changes to UC have been made to help Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • The Waiting Week is suspended. Previously, claimants were not eligible for benefits during their first week of unemployment (the “waiting week”). This has been suspended; eligible claimants may receive benefits for the first week that they are unemployed.
  • Work Search and Work Registration requirements are temporarily waived for all UC claimants. Claimants are not required to prove they have applied or searched for a new job to maintain their UC benefits. Claimants are also not required to register with PACareerLink.gov.

Find out more about UC and WC eligibility and how to apply.

Financial Help

Credit Cards

If you have seen a reduction in pay due to COVID-19 and are struggling to make your credit card or loan payments, contact your lender right away.

Regulatory agencies have encouraged financial institutions to work with customers impacted by the coronavirus.

For guidance visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or contact a credit counselor near you.

Mortgage or Rent

If you can’t cover your mortgage payment or rent, contact your lender or landlord immediately. Do not wait until you’re behind on payments.

Some lenders may work out an agreement with you to waive late fees, set up a repayment plan or offer loan forbearance.

Utilities

On March 6, 2020, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman signed an emergency order prohibiting terminations by utilities that are under the PUC’s jurisdiction, including:

  • Electric
  • Natural Gas
  • Water
  • Wastewater
  • Telecommunication
  • Steam

This memorandum is in place for as long as Governor Tom Wolf’s Proclamation of Disaster is in effect.

If you are struggling to pay your utility bills, contact your service provider for possible emergency assistance programs.

Food Assistance

Food Pantries

Food pantries continue to operate throughout Pennsylvania, although some have updated hours and all are working on ways to connect people with food without risking contact.

Find a pantry near you, then give them a call to make arrangements.

Find out more about how to get emergency food assistance.

Meals for Students

The Pennsylvania Department of Education received approval from the federal government to allow K-12 schools in Pennsylvania closed due to COVID-19 to serve meals offsite to students.

These meals will be available at no cost to low-income children and make it possible for kids to receive nutritious meals and snacks while schools are temporarily closed.

See a county map of schools and districts distributing meals at no cost to children under age 18. For more information, contact your local school.

Grocery Help for Low-Income Individuals

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps families, older adults, and individuals pay for groceries. Benefits are loaded onto an EBT card, which can then be used to purchase food at grocery stores, supermarkets, some farmers markets, and other stores that accept SNAP.

Emergency SNAP applications can be expedited and issued in five days. Pennsylvanians can apply for SNAP online.

Food for Women, Children, and Families

WIC helps with nutrition for pregnant women, nursing women, postpartum women, and infants and children younger than 5. Benefits can be used for approved grocery items at stores that accept WIC.

Apply by calling the toll-free hotline at 800-WIC-WINS, or start your WIC application online.

Meals for Older Adults

Area Agencies on Aging continue to provide meals for older adults throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Call your local Area Agency on Aging and request that you be connected with meals.

Driver Services

All Driver License Centers and Photo License Centers in Pennsylvania will be closed for two weeks effective close of business on Monday, March 16.

Driver and vehicle online services are still available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These services include driver’s license, photo ID and vehicle registration renewals; driver-history services; changes of address; driver license and vehicle registration restoration letters; ability to pay driver license or vehicle insurance restoration fee; driver license and photo ID duplicates; and driver exam scheduling. There are no additional fees for using online services.

More information on changes being implemented as part of PennDOT’s response to COVID-19.

Expiration Dates

Driver licenses, photo ID cards and learner’s permits scheduled to expire from March 16, 2020 through April 30, 2020, the expiration date is now extended until May 31, 2020.

Pennsylvania Turnpike

The Pennsylvania Turnpike has temporarily suspended cash payments. Find out more about accepted forms of payment.

Rest Areas

Some PennDOT rest areas and welcome centers statewide will be closed to the public effective 12:01 AM Tuesday, March 17, 2020. See below a list of open locations.

REAL ID

The Department of Homeland Security has postponed the enforcement date for REAL ID from October 1, 2020, to October 1, 2021, in response to COVID-19 and the national emergency declaration. Find out more about REAL ID in Pennsylvania.

State Correctional Institutions

As part of the statewide COVID-19 mitigation effort, visits at all state correctional institutions are cancelled through April 10, 2020.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections understands the impact that canceling visits could have on inmates and their families and friends.

Video visitation is a free service being offered to inmates and authorized visitors while visitation
is suspended at the facilities in response to COVID-19 precautions. Find out how to participate.

More Resources

For Businesses

Life-Sustaining Businesses

Governor Wolf has ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations as of 8 p.m. March 19, to slow the spread of COVID-19. Enforcement actions against businesses that do not close physical locations are now in effect.

Business guidance has been updated after conversations with businesses, stakeholders, and individuals and has been aligned with guidance on Essential Critical Infrastructure issued by the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency advisory.

Restaurants and Bars

All restaurants and bars have been ordered to 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.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced steps to enforce this order beginning on Wednesday, March 18 at 8:00 PM.

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.

Failure to Comply and Enforcement

Failure to comply with these requirements will result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines, or license suspensions.

The governor has directed the following state agencies and local officials to enforce the closure orders to the full extent of the law:

  • Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Pennsylvania State Police
  • Local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions

Private businesses, local organizations and other noncompliant entities that fail or refuse to comply with the governor’s orders that protect the lives and health of Pennsylvanians will forfeit their ability to receive any applicable disaster relief and/or may be subject to other appropriate administrative action. Such action may include termination of state loan or grant funding, including Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grant funding and/or suspension or revocation of licensure for violation of the law.

Finally, in addition to any other criminal charges that might be applicable, the Department of Health is authorized to prosecute noncompliant entities for the failure to comply with health laws, including quarantine, isolation or other disease control measures. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment.

Resources and Loans

COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program

We are no longer accepting applications for the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program. All funding has been exhausted. However, low-interest loans for small businesses and eligible non-profits in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania is now available through the U.S. Small Business Administration (see below).

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development offers working capital loans that could be of assistance to businesses impacted by COVID-19. Resources and information can be found here as they become available.

U.S. Small Business Administration

On March 19, 2020, Governor Wolf announced the availability of low-interest loans for small businesses and eligible non-profits in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Loan applications can also be downloaded at sba.gov/disaster. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Completed applications should be returned to the local DLOC or mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

More Resources

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