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Wolf declares state of emergency, shuttering all 'nonessential' businesses across state

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania speaks at a new conference at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Headquarters where he said he was ordering schools and other facilities to close in a suburban Philadelphia county, Montgomery County, that has been hard-hit by the COVID-19, Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday afternoon declared a state of emergency that will close all “nonessential businesses” in the state after the number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 76.

Earlier in the morning, York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler also declared a state of emergency and prohibited “nonessential” visits at county offices, although the county still has not had any confirmed cases.

“This isn’t a decision I take lightly at all,” Wolf said in a virtual news conference. “It’s one I’m making because medical experts believe it is the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overrun by patients.”

More:UPDATE: Wolf faces lawsuits, GOP outrage over shutdown order

More:UPDATE: Wolf orders all 'non-life-sustaining' businesses to close 'physical locations'

More:UPDATE: Which businesses are life-sustaining and which aren't

More:What are considered 'nonessential' businesses? A lot of them

More:Information about the coronavirus and COVID-19 from the CDC

For now, business closings will last for two weeks effective midnight Tuesday, Wolf said. Nonessential businesses include bars and restaurants.

Takeout and delivery are still permitted, under Wolf's order. 

Essential businesses include municipal services such as trash collection. They also include grocery stores, medical facilities and pharmacies.

Liquor stores also happen to be on that list, as later in the day the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced that all state liquor stores would be closed indefinitely beginning Tuesday.

The state hopes to allow businesses to reopen as soon as possible, Wolf said. 

It is unclear whether the April 28 presidential primary election will be affected by the order, Wolf added.

York County's actions on Monday morning were less severe. They simply prohibited resident visitation for matters that are not time sensitive.

That does not include a variety of visitations, such as those who need to work with the 911 center or file important documentation related to mortgages.

"This is just the next step we can now take to assist the county of York as we continue to monitor what's going on in our neighboring communities," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the county has not yet considered temporarily closing government buildings to the public as a whole.

"The county needs to stay open for business," Wheeler said. "This is an evolving situation that we need to take care of on a day-to-day basis."

Some county employees have been instructed to work remotely to stop the spread of the virus in government buildings. Others have had modified work schedules, Wheeler added.

State Department of Health officials said Monday there were 76 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, 13 more than on Sunday. There have been 670 negative tests, officials said.

One or two of those are suspected to be community-spread, meaning the department cannot determine from where the individuals contracted the virus, said Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler listens as John Porter, executive vice president and COO of WellSpan Health, speaks during a press conference at the commissioner's chambers Monday, March 16, 2020. Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the county due to the Coronavirus. Bill Kalina photo

Gov. Tom Wolf had already closed all schools in the state. He also ordered the closure of bars and restaurants in Allegheny, Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks and Chester counties, which had particularly been hit hard by the virus.

Still, the fear of the virus spreading trickled down to businesses in York County.

For example, organizers for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade slated for last weekend canceled the event, drawing the ire of local bars, whose owners griped that it would throttle their profits. They still opted to stay open.

Left Bank Restaurant & Bar took it a step further, though, closing its doors for 12-24 weeks.

Late Sunday, officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the cancellation or postponement of all events where more than 50 people are expected to attend. 

Also on Monday, York County President Judge Joseph Adams announced he is awaiting approval from state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor to implement a variety of measures to limit person-to-person contact in the county's courtrooms.

The potential emergency order would allow all of the county's magisterial and district courts to conduct hearings via telephone or via audio-visual communication. It would also suspend the courts' "speedy trial" rule.

Additionally, courts will slow down operations to only address essential matters such as requests for protection.

Adams is not asking for courts to be closed completely, which would be under the purview of Chief Justice Saylor.

"It is vital the courts remain open to the public," Adams said. 

The U.S. has more than 3,500 confirmed cases, The New York TImes reported Monday. West Virginia is the only state to have not confirmed a case.

There have been roughly 70 deaths nationwide.

In recent days, officials nationwide have closed restaurants and bars completely — although takeout and delivery have been an exception in some cases — in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington state and Puerto Rico, the Times reported.

Bars throughout California and in Boston and New York City have been ordered closed for St. Patrick's Day.

Last week, organizer's for York's St. Patrick's Day parade canceled the event planned for last weekend due to coronavirus concerns. 

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.