Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Introduce New Restrictions in Response to Rising COVID-19 Infections
On November 17, 2020, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine issued two new orders in response to rising levels of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. These orders (1) place certain restrictions on individuals traveling into Pennsylvania, and (2) provide increased and more detailed requirements related to the use of face coverings in the Commonwealth.
The travel order requires that all travelers entering Pennsylvania from other countries and states, whether a returning resident or a visitor, must have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering the Commonwealth. If the traveler cannot obtain a negative COVID-19 test, he or she must quarantine for 14 days upon his or her arrival in Pennsylvania or until he or she obtains a negative COVID-19 test result, whichever is earlier. The travel order takes effect on November 20, 2020. Importantly, this order does not apply to individuals who are travelling to or from Pennsylvania for work or medical reasons.
The face coverings order strengthens the PA Department of Health’s original face coverings order issued on April 15, 2020. The new order includes the following requirements:
- Individuals who are away from home must wear coverings indoors and outdoors.
- When outdoors, a face covering must be worn if the individual cannot remain physically distant from someone not in his or her household the entire time he or she is outdoors.
- When indoors, other than with members of an individual’s household, face coverings must be worn at all times, even when physically distant from other individuals.
- The order applies to all indoor facilities, including homes, retail establishments, offices and transportation.
The face coverings order does not apply to individuals “working alone” — individuals who are isolated from other people and have little to no expectation of in-person interruption. Examples of people working alone include those who are working inside an office with four walls and a door or a cubicle with three walls and a door or entryway, provided that (1) the walls are high enough to block the applicable breathing zone and (2) the worker’s activity does not require anyone else to come inside the cubicle. The face coverings order contains exceptions, but they are very limited (e.g., situations where a face covering would create an unsafe condition). This face coverings order goes into effect on November 18, 2020.
On November 16, 2020, the City of Philadelphia announced expansive new restrictions, including new restrictions on office spaces and businesses, in response to the rising level of COVID-19 infections in the City. These new “Safer at Home” restrictions are effective from November 20, 2020, through January 1, 2021.
The new restrictions include (1) prohibitions on the operation of specific businesses and activities, including theaters, bowling alleys, museums, casinos and gyms; (2) tighter restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings; and (3) new precautions and capacity limits for non-prohibited businesses, e.g., retail stores are limited to a maximum density of five people per 1,000 square feet. Certain businesses are exempt from these new restrictions so long as those businesses continue to function under current guidance from the Department of Health. These businesses include grocery stores, banks, construction, real estate operations, health care services and childcare services.
Of the new restrictions, the following are the most important to businesses with offices in the City:
- All indoor gatherings and events involving people from more than one household are prohibited in public or private spaces.
- Offices are permitted to have only employees who cannot work remotely.
Due to these new restrictions, we recommend that businesses with offices in Pennsylvania take the following precautions:
- Require face coverings to be worn in the office at all times, except when individuals are truly isolated from other workers in an office or a four-walled cubicle with high walls.
- Advise employees who engage in personal travel outside of Pennsylvania that they may not return to the office (if working on-site) unless and until they obtain a qualifying negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for the required two weeks.Currently, the language of the travel order is broad enough to exempt all business travel — the order exempts individuals “travelling to and from the Commonwealth for the purposes of work.” However, language on other parts of the PA Department of Health website suggests that this language may be limited solely to Future guidance may reflect this narrower exemption.
For businesses with offices in Philadelphia, we further recommend the following:
- Require those employees who can work from home to do so.
- For those employees who cannot work from home, isolate those employees as much as possible and limit gathering spaces and meetings, consistent with prior guidance.