With new modeling projecting 22,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in Pennsylvania in December, Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine today announced new mitigation measures.
“As our hospitals and healthcare system are facing greater strain, we need to redouble our efforts to keep people safe,” said Wolf. “If our healthcare system is compromised, it isn’t only COVID-19 patients who will suffer. If we run out of hospital beds, or if hospital staff are overworked to the breaking point, care will suffer for every patient – including those who need emergency care for illnesses, accidents, or chronic conditions unrelated to COVID-19.”
The new measures include revamped school safety attestation, targeted business and gathering restrictions, and a new enforcement plan that includes liability protection for businesses enforcing Levine’s strengthened mask-wearing order. She and Wolf are also advising all Pennsylvanians to limit unnecessary travel and keep gatherings held in homes to members of the same household.
Requiring strict safety measures in schools
Pre-K to 12 public schools in counties that have been in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks (this includes Bucks County) are required to commit to safety measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and educators. If they choose not to, they must move to fully remote learning without all extracurricular activities.
– Schools are mandated to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building
– By 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30, chief school administrators and the governing body president/chair must sign an attestation form stating they have either transitioned to fully remote learning or are complying with the orders if they are conducting any in-person instruction while in the substantial range of transmission
– Those schools that do no sign or comply with an attestation are required to provide only fully remote learning and suspend all extracurricular activities as long as the county remains in the substantial transmission level
Keeping businesses, customers and employees safe
The administration is revising and reissuing its orders to protect businesses, customers and employees. This order will consolidate previous orders and includes reiterating cleaning and social distancing requirements, mandatory telework requirements unless impossible, and other safety measures:
– Telework is mandatory unless impossible; safety measures required for businesses including cleaning, social distancing and masking
– Online sales and curbside pickup for all shopping are encouraged
To help with enforcement of existing masking orders in businesses, the administration is introducing liability protection for all businesses that maintain in-person operations and are open to the public. Businesses will receive immunity from civil liability only as related to the secretary’s masking order given that individuals and entities are engaged in essential emergency services activities and disaster services activities when enforcing the order.
Strengthening gathering limitations
All large events and gatherings are now reduced until further notice. In addition, the retail food services industry, including bars, restaurants and private catered events must end alcohol sales for on-site consumption at 5 p.m. on Nov. 25 only.
New limits are as follows for indoor events:
– 0-2,000 people: 10 percent maximum occupancy
– 2,001-10,000 people: 5 percent maximum occupancy
– Over 10,000 people: No events over 500 people
New limits are as follows for outdoor events:
– 0-2,000 people: 15 percent maximum occupancy
– 2,001-10,000 people: 10 percent maximum occupancy
– Over 10,000 people: 5 percent of maximum occupancy up to 2,500 people
Additional restrictions include:
– Household gatherings are advised against when attendees include non-household members
– To specifically address large crowds, on Nov. 25 only, all sales or dispensing of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption at businesses in the retail food services industry, including bars, restaurants and private catered events, must end at 5 p.m.; indoor dining may continue, takeout is encouraged
Empowering local government
– The governor and secretary’s orders were issued pursuant to the authority granted to them under the law, and as such, they have the force and effect of law. This authority extends to all local enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania. Local law enforcement received guidance on enforcement of the various COVID-19 orders in place from the Pennsylvania State Police through the PA Chiefs of Police Association.
– The Department of Health has provided recommendations for local municipal leaders, as well as countywide leadership. Local leaders can implement their own orders, ordinances or directives in order to protect health and safety, as long as they are stricter than those mandated by the state.
– Local leaders at all levels of government should exercise their authority and influence to support public health efforts that will protect residents and local economies.
– The Department of Health has established thresholds representing low, moderate or substantial community transmission of COVID-19, and corresponding actions that can be taken by county and municipal leaders. A county’s threshold may change week-by-week as incidence and percent positivity rates rise and fall. Leaders should implement more public health actions rather than fewer if their county is between thresholds.
Ramping up enforcement
All orders are enforceable, and law enforcement and state agencies will be stepping up enforcement efforts, issuing citations and fines, and possibly regulatory actions for repeat offenders.
Enforcement is being stepped up on the following orders:
– Out-of-state travel
– Business safety, including telework, occupancy, cleaning, social distancing
– Restaurant mitigation, including occupancy, masking, social distancing and self-certification
– Gathering limits
– School attestation and mitigation
Orders are enforceable as a disease control measure under the Disease Prevention and Control Law. Persons who fail to comply with an order may be fined between $25 and $300. The Department of Health is bolstering its ability to receive and respond to complaints from customers and employees.
“As Pennsylvanians, we have a responsibility to one another to do what we can to protect each other and preserve the life we all love in this commonwealth,” said Wolf. “For those who refuse to do their part to protect their neighbors and communities and refuse to accept that their actions have consequences that cause pain and suffering for others, we will be stepping up enforcement of all of the public health orders Dr. Levine and I have put in place.
“We are in a very dangerous situation, and we need to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 right now because if we give in to the virus, we will lose many more Pennsylvanians. And that is unacceptable.”