Wolf expands dining ban statewide, liquor stores close

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

The entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania was placed on a virtual lockdown by Gov. Tom Wolf — joining five counties, including Chester County, that saw all non-essential businesses being asked to close for two weeks as part of the battle to fight the COVID-19 virus spread. Additionally, all bars and restaurants can no longer allow dine-in customers.

The state is advising avoiding gatherings of 10 or more and advising to avoid non-essential travel during the crisis.

“Earlier today, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut imposed similar restrictions, and I thank the residents of these states for joining Pennsylvania in working together to halt the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said. “I know the next few weeks will be challenging. There is no reason to be fearful, or to panic, but we need to take this disease seriously. Please, stay home. Make as few in-person contacts as you can.”

All of the state’s liquor stores have been ordered closed for the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, the number of presumed positive cases in Chester County grew to six — with a pair of cases involving a 53-year-old male and 51-year-old female from East Marlborough. Statewide, as of Monday night, there were 76 positive test result reported — although the state is saying Chester County has only two cases, so it is likely the statewide numbers are higher in reality. The state is reporting 670 tests to date.

The Wolf Administration offered more specific guidance as to what is considered a “non-essential” business:

Non-essential businesses include public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities, including but not limited to community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, barre and spin facilities; hair salons and barber shops, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; sporting event venues and golf courses; retail facilities, including shopping malls except for pharmacy or other health care facilities within retail operations.

The Wolf Administration said it is relying on businesses to act now before the governor or the Secretary of Health finds it necessary to compel closures under the law for the interest of public health, including section 7301 of the Emergency Management Services Code.  

As the Centers for Disease Control is recommending people avoid large gatherings for the next eight weeks, events are being postponed throughout the area — The Willowdale Steeplechase is moving from May 9 to June 6. The date to reserve tailgate space is also moving back from March 31 to April 14.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn announced that all facilities at state park and forests in Pennsylvania will be closed for 14 days effective March 17 to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The public will still be able to access trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking.

“People will have access to state-owned open spaces to continue to enjoy the healthful benefits of recreation and being outdoors,” Dunn said. “However, as part of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, all of the buildings at state parks and forests including the park and forest offices, and all restrooms will be closed, and all events and public educational programs are canceled.

“We encourage practicing social distancing while enjoying open spaces including avoiding groups and crowds, and visitors should use the bathroom before they leave home,” Dunn said.

Closed facilities include:

  • Park and forest offices and visitor centers
  • Restrooms
  • Campgrounds, cabins and all forms of overnight accommodations
  • Public programs, events, and trainings are canceled

Elsewhere, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today declared a statewide judicial emergency effective until April 14.

With the emergency declaration in place, county president judges are authorized to declare individual county judicial emergencies through April 14, should they deem it appropriate to protect the health and safety of staff, court users and the community.

State Sen. Tom Killion (R-9) who represents part of the southeastern portion of Chester County called Monday for extended unemployment benefits.

Killion wrote Wolf asking for support.

“I commend you and your administration for the steps you have taken to protect the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 crisis,” wrote Killion. “With mandatory closures implemented, countless hourly workers in the Commonwealth have lost their ability to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families. We must do all in its power to limit the negative financial impact on hardworking Pennsylvanians.”

With all of the county’s State House seats up for election, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted campaigns across the county.

State Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-156) has cancelled all in-person events.

“We must take action to ensure the safety of our community,” Comitta said in a statement. “The safety, well-being, and health of our community is our top priority. We must work together to make sure that tests are available and to make sure that correct, clear information is available to everyone. Our hearts go out to all who have been already affected. We must protect those who are high-risk and ensure, through social distancing and other measures, that we keep our community safe.”

Locally, municipalities are responding to the crisis with emergency declarations and office closings.

On Friday, Kennett Township issued a Disaster Emergency Declaration in response to the COVID-19/Coronavirus outbreak in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and County of Chester. The declaration followed the federal, state, and county governments each declaring a state of emergency in response to the pandemic.

The declaration issued by the Township allows Township Departments, in conjunction with the Township Emergency Management Coordinator, to suspend regulatory requirements deemed necessary to respond to this disaster and to conduct Township Business.

New Garden has closed its township office through March 31 and cancelled all board meetings through the end of the month.

Charitable efforts are also ramping up around the county.

United Way of Chester County has launched the Chester County COVID-19 Response Fund, allowing us to rapidly deploy resources to community-based organizations that offer crucial support to families and individuals in need; and to meet their non-profit needs to remain strong through these difficult times.

United Way of Chester County hopes to assist non-profits and the people they serve by:

  • Providing non-profits with critical operating resources to respond to community needs;
  • Providing support for programs that address things such as utility assistance, food vulnerability, housing assistance, healthcare and other needs as identified.

Funds raised will be provided to non-profit organizations through a rapid deployment mini grant process that will be overseen by the United Way of Chester County Community Impact Council along with other key community stakeholders.

You can make a gift now to the Chester County COVID-19 Response Fund by visiting

www.ChesterCountyCOVID19ResponseFund.org or mailing a check made out to United Way of Chester County and sent to 495 Thomas Jones Way, Suite 302, Exton, PA 19341. Please note “COVID19 Response” in the memo line.

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