While the coronavirus has caused museums, sports arenas, and other major attractions across the region to close, a majority of essential services remain open and operating under a normal schedule. The City of Philadelphia has ordered all nonessential businesses and services to shut down as of 5 p.m. Monday, March 16.
Under the ban, restaurants must operate through take-out only. City offices are closed to the public. Only businesses classified as “essential” by the city, including supermarkets, gas stations, banks, post offices, day cares, bike shops, and veterinary clinics are allowed to remain open.
Here’s what to expect.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) reports that it’s still operating on a regular schedule, with only minor operational impacts.
On March 6, the Postal Service released its 2020 Pandemic Influenza Plan. It follows strategies recommended by the CDC and public health departments, such as advising employees to stay home if they’re sick or experiencing coronavirus symptoms, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Although the CDC doesn’t recommend face masks to healthy individuals, the USPS says it’ll provide surgical masks to postal employees upon request.
There are several international service disruptions. Because of airline cancellations and travel restrictions, the USPS has temporarily suspended the guarantee on Priority Mail Express International to China and Hong Kong. Customers should also be prepared for delays in mail and packages headed to and from China and from European countries subject to restricted passenger airline travel.
If you’re not already banking mobile, now might be the time to look into it. Banks, including Capital One, Chase & Co, Citigroup, and JPMorgan, recently sent reminders to customers about self-service digital banking options.
Many branches across the region are still operating as usual, with contingency plans being closely monitored. At PNC, these include discussions around remote access, alternate work locations for employees, and continuity plans for critical operations. Some branches are closed, and others have modified hours.
Wells Fargo has installed hand sanitizer stations at its branches and is implementing enhanced cleaning, as needed. It’s also among the numerous banks warning its customers of scams related to the coronavirus.
“Look out for suspicious email and text messages, medical supply scams, and fraudulent donation sites that may impersonate a company, charity, or government agency,” Wells Fargo states on its website.
In light of the increasing economic impact of the coronavirus, the FDIC is encouraging financial institutions to work with customers. As Forbes points out, that could mean waiving fees on missed credit card payments or waiving early withdrawal penalties for those who are out of work and need access to money locked in CDs. More than a handful of major banks are already putting assistance plans into place, with more expected to follow.
According to the EPA, there’s no need to make a mad dash to the store to stock up on jugs of water.
“Based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low,” states the EPA on its website in reference to the coronavirus. “Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual.”
Local services and utility companies, including the Philadelphia Water Department and Pennsylvania American Water, have sent out public announcements to reiterate that their water is safe.
“International experts inform us that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods, including those used at all of Philadelphia’s drinking water plants, use filtration and disinfection, which removes or inactivates the virus that causes COVID-19,” states an email from the Philadelphia Water Department.
The city is urging utility companies to halt shutoffs. Many are also suspending all nonessential field appointments.
Grocery stores across the region are up and running — but expect longer than usual lines, eerily empty shelves, and potential limits on the amount of toilet paper you’re permitted to buy. An array of area supermarkets and big-box stores are curbing customers from stockpiling certain cleaning supplies and pantry staples in an effort to keep up with demand.
Many grocery stores have started providing hours just for shoppers 60 and older and people who are immunocompromised. Here’s when and where you can go if you fall into that category:
All nonessential retailers have been ordered to close. What’s considered essential? Grocery stores, mini-markets, non-specialized food stores, as well as stores like pharmacies and gas stations make the cut.
State-run liquor stores across Pennsylvania have reopened for online sales, though demand has overwhelmed the site.
The city is urging utility companies to halt shutoffs. PECO announced on Friday that it would follow suit and will waive new late payment fees through at least May 1.
Customers experiencing challenges in paying their bills or who have a disconnect notice can contact PECO at 1-800-494-4000. PECO is also working to help customers determine if they are eligible for assistance programs.
Atlantic City Electric announced it will suspend service disconnections and waive new late payment fees through at least May 1. The New Jersey utility company says they’ll work with customers on a case-by-case basis on payment arrangements and energy assistance options.
Comcast is offering unlimited data for customers and making its wifi hot spots free for everyone. The tech giant won’t disconnect service or impose late fees if customers can’t pay their bills during the pandemic.
The Philadelphia Free Library is closed. Most programs scheduled through the end of April are cancelled or postponed. Public libraries across Montgomery County are also closed. For materials already borrowed, late fees are being waived.
However, if you want to curl up with a good book right now, and have a Free Library card, you can access a variety of materials online, including e-books, audiobooks, movies, magazines, and music. If you have a Montgomery County Library card, you can access e-books and magazines online.
The City of Philadelphia reports that all trash is being picked up on a normal schedule. Recycling is now being collected every other week.
“We’re looking at each of our services on a daily basis but at this point we don’t expect to make any adjustments," said Brian Abernathy, managing director.
Public Works Department for Upper Moreland Township confirmed trash is operating as usual.
In the event that trash services become disrupted, consider finding ways now to start minimizing your garbage output. Using reusable water bottles and bags, travel mugs, and cloth napkins are all helpful, as is bringing your own containers to the supermarket — especially if you plan on stockpiling ingredients in bulk.
Inquirer staff writer Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.