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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf orders statewide shutdown over coronavirus

Wolf urged residents to “stay calm, stay safe, stay home."

The governor had previously put four counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery — under a shutdown order.
The governor had previously put four counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery — under a shutdown order.Read moreCommonwealth Media Services (custom credit)

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UPDATE: On March 19, Wolf extended the shutdown to all businesses that are not “life-sustaining” and promised enforcement.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf extended his shutdown order to the entire state on Monday as the number of coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania continued to grow.

The directive, which applies to nonessential businesses in all 67 counties, begins at midnight and will be in place for two weeks. The Wolf administration said it’s “strongly urging” businesses to act, while warning officials could eventually find it “necessary to compel closures.”

The governor also urged residents to “stay calm, stay safe, stay home."

“This isn’t a decision that I take lightly at all,” Wolf said at the state’s emergency management headquarters on Monday. “It’s one that I’m making because medical experts believe it is the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”

The governor had previously placed four counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery — in a similar lockdown. On Friday, he also closed all public schools statewide for two weeks.

Though Wolf has broad powers in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, his shutdown orders have generally involved asking nonessential businesses like gyms, salons, theaters, and concert venues to close for 14 days. On Monday, he ordered restaurants statewide to close their dine-in facilities, while allowing takeout service to continue.

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A spokesperson for his office noted Wolf “could force closures, but as the governor previously stated, this is something that is incumbent on all of us to help mitigate the spread.”

“In unprecedented circumstances like these we expect compliance to protect customers, employees, and the community,” the spokesperson said. “The administration will work with local law enforcement, permitting entities, and local officials to enforce if needed. The governor does not want to expend valuable resources from the State Police and National Guard because irresponsible people will not do the right thing.”

Later Monday evening, the Wolf administration toughened its stance, saying it is relying on businesses to “act now before the governor or the Secretary of Health find it necessary to compel closures.”

Wolf reiterated on Monday that essential government and medical services will continue, and that pharmacies, grocery stores, health care facilities, and gas stations should stay open.

He also clarified his definition of which commercial services and sectors fall into the essential category: food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, feed mills, construction, trash collection, auto and home repair, post office and shipping outlets, insurance, banks, laundromats, veterinary clinics and pet stores, and hotels and commercial lodging.

Republicans who control the state House earlier in the day had criticized the Wolf administration for creating confusion in the business community about whether to close.

Other emergency moves announced Monday:

  1. The state Gaming Control Board instructed any casinos still open to begin shutting down.

  2. The Department of Transportation closed all driver’s license and driver’s license photo centers, and extended the validity of expiring driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, and inspections until the end of April.

  3. State-run liquor stores will shut down indefinitely at 9 p.m. Tuesday, although consumers can still purchase wine and beer at grocery stores that carry them, according to officials at the state’s Liquor Control Board.

  4. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will close all facilities at state parks and forests for 14 days starting Tuesday. Trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas will still be open to the public.

  5. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court declared a statewide judicial emergency until April 14, 2020, during which county president judges can, among other changes, restrict or temporarily close court facilities and authorize using technology to conduct court proceedings.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said as of Monday morning, 76 Pennsylvania residents had tested positive for the virus, including 30 people in Montgomery County and eight in Philadelphia, where Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has now ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down. The city is also closing city government buildings to the public and halting all nonessential city services this week.

For the first time Monday, state health officials said that “one or two” cases involving people who tested positive for COVID-19 could not be traced to a known source of infection — for instance, travel to an impacted area or contact to an infected person — suggesting the virus is spreading in the community.

For the moment, that spread appears contained. But officials said they expect that to change.

“We have not reached that threshold of sustained community spread in any area,” said Levine. “That doesn’t mean we won’t. And actually, we fully expect that we will see sustained community spread.”

Sarah Anne Hughes and Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA contributed to this article.

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