All "non-life-sustaining" businesses in Pennsylvania are to close physical locations to slow spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Tom Wolf's administration warned that failure to comply with the requirement by 8 p.m. Thursday would "result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines, or license suspensions."
A list of businesses considered non-life sustaining and ordered to close includes child daycare, all construction, some forms of manufacturing and most retail trade including all department stores, clothing stores and automobile dealers.
Grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, medical facilities and banks are among those businesses that are clear to stay open.
Restaurants and bars were already required to stop all dine-in services, but food establishments could offer carry-out, delivery and drive-through food and beverage service, including alcohol.
In extenuating circumstances, special exemptions will be granted to businesses that are supplying or servicing health care providers.
Thursday prior to Wolf's announcement, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine repeatedly stressed that businesses that are not “life-sustaining” should close.
She spoke in a Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce conference call with 2,600 business people participating.
The number of people across the commonwealth testing positive for COVID-19 was at 185 as of Thursday. All are in isolation at home or hospitalized. There also were 1,600 individuals who had tested negative, she said.
“We can assume there are people in Pennsylvania who will test positive, but the source cannot be identified," Levine said. "This means community spread, and that makes Gov. Tom Wolf’s actions (to close businesses) essential.”
However, she said it could be 6-8 weeks or longer before the overall pandemic passes.
“Now is the time to mitigate the number of critically ill people who will be going to hospitals,” she said.
“COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu but less contagious than other virus- caused illnesses including the measles,” she said. “Statistically, how many people will die varies by demographic. Seniors are more at risk than younger populations. But the average death rate is 2 of 100 people, 2 percent – compared to the flu, which is 1 of 1,000.”
Levine added: “If you are not a life-sustaining business, please close.”
Jobs and unemployment
In Cambria County, about 6,500 people are employed in retail or just under 13 % of all employment in the county, according to latest Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry statistics.
And the hospitality and food services industries employ an additional 4,095 people – or more than 8% of all employment in the county. Construction employs almost 2,000 people, or about 4%.
Many workers may face layoffs and will be seeking unemployment benefits.
Unemployment claims are increasing because of temporary COVID-19-related business closures, but Pennsylvania Department of Labor officials said those numbers will not be released until next week.
And as new people enter the system, the most effective way to file a claim for unemployment benefits is online at www.uc.pa.gov.
The department is working with half of its usual staff manning the phones because of the outbreak, said Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Gerard Oleksiak.
He said the department is working to have more capacity for workers to work at home to help people file claims by phone.
An initial claim and a biweekly claim is required to certify unemployed status, and both can be done online.
Susan Dickinson, director of unemployment compensation policy said there is no planned acceleration of benefits: a check from the office normally takes two to four weeks to arrive from the time a claim is made.
The officials said people should not be held back by questions on the application such as "when you expect to return to work." The officials recognize the answer is uncertain, Oleksiak said.
"You've heard Dr. Levine and Gov. Wolf say 'this is not over," he said. "The numbers (of COVID-19 infections) have not reached their peak."