March 16, 2020
All non-essential businesses in Philadelphia, including bars and restaurants, have been ordered to close by 5 p.m. Monday as city officials enact more stringent restrictions aimed at mitigating the spread of coronavirus.
They must remain closed through at least March 27, Mayor Jim Kenney announced. Restaurants can remain open for delivery or take-out, but dining services must cease.
"These changes will disrupt life in Philadelphia and we do not make these changes lightly," Kenney said. "We're well aware of the potential devastating effect they will have on the businesses and workers in our city. ... For now, I urge all businesses and residents to observe these restrictions so that the threat of this virus can quickly be eliminated."
Essential commercial establishments, including grocery stores, big box stores, pharmacies, discount stores, hardware stores, gas stations, banks, post offices and laundromats and dry cleaners, may remain open.
The news came just an hour before Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania to close for two weeks, beginning at midnight.
"This is not a decision I take lightly at all," Wolf said. "It's one that I am making because medical experts believe that it is the only way that we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients. ... We will be continually re-evaluating and we will lift the mitigation efforts as soon as possible."
Wolf stopped short of enacting a curfew on residents, as New Jersey did Monday alongside New York and Connecticut. In California, the Bay Area ordered residents to shelter-in-place, directing them to refrain from leaving their homes until April 7.
"We're all trying to do the same thing (with) slightly different ways of doing it," Wolf said, adding that, ideally, Pennsylvania residents would stay home 24 hours a day. "But basically all of us want to make sure that people are not interacting with people."
Wolf urged residents to remain home unless needing to run an essential errand – like a trip to the pharmacy or grocery store. He advised people to avoid visiting friends and family members until the coronavirus threat ends.
Social distancing efforts are necessary to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with sick individuals. Pennsylvania had 76 coronavirus cases as of Monday afternoon.
Health officials have stockpiled ventilators and other equipment, but a surge of patients battling severe COVID-19 cases could reduce availability – an issue that Italy and other European countries have faced.
"The greater the demand, the more likely that it is that we're going to run into some supply problems," Wolf said. "This is why these mitigation efforts are so important."
In Philadelphia, the city government and PIDC are launching a program to provide new grants and zero-interest loans to businesses that make less than $5 million in annual revenue. Application details will be announced in the days to come.
Officials also expanded the city's sick leave law so that all Philadelphia workers can use their paid sick leave to cover coronavirus-related closures or to care for children affected by school closures. Quarantines also are covered.
Philadelphia has nine coronavirus cases, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. Officials are waiting on the results of another 44 tests and following 104 people who have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19.
City courts are suspended through April 1. Jurors do not need to report.
Additionally, all non-essential city services are halted. City government buildings will be closed to the public beginning Tuesday. Essential services include public safety, health and human services, utilities, sanitation and payroll.
Gov. Tom Wolf previously ordered bars and restaurants to close in the four suburban Philly counties after initially urging all non-essential businesses to temporarily shut down on their own.
But city officials resisted making such calls. Bars and restaurants were packed over the weekend as people celebrated the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday.
Now, those establishments will be shuttered.
This is a developing story. Check back for more details.