COVID restrictions: Wolf, Levine cite Disease Prevention and Control Law as justification for citations
HARRISBURG—Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Sec. Dr. Rachel Levine plan to target “chronic violators” of COVID restrictions, they announced Monday, and according to Wolf, orders are enforceable as a disease control measure under the Disease Prevention and Control Law, with citations given on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, bars, restaurants, and private catered events must end alcohol sales for on-site consumption at 5 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2020 only.
According to Wolf, new data models project 22,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in Pennsylvania in December. In the past week, the number of COVID-19-attributable deaths has quadrupled, and the average daily case count is seven times higher than it was two months ago, he said.
Levine said last week that modeling available from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that Pennsylvania will run out of intensive care beds in December.
“As our hospitals and health care system are facing greater strain, we need to redouble our efforts to keep people safe,” Wolf said. “If our health care 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 over-worked 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 IHME’s modeling also projects that if mitigation efforts are not adhered to, Pennsylvania could have more than 32,000 deaths from COVID-19 by Feb. 23, 2021.
But with universal mask-wearing, those deaths can be reduced by half, Levine said.
Consequently, state officials will join neighboring Maryland in a “robust enforcement plan” to take aim at what they call “chronic violators,” along with an effort to ensure schools are in compliance with COVID safety plans.
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 the Secretary of Health’s strengthened mask-wearing order. The administration is 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 Our Schools
State officials will require Pre-K to 12 public schools in counties that have been in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks to commit to safety measures to ensure the safety and well-being of students and educators. If they choose not to, they must move to fully remote learning without all extra-curricular activities. As of Friday, Nov. 20, there are 59 counties in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks.
Schools are mandated to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building.
By 5 p.m. 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 not 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.
“All of us have a responsibility to slow the spread of this virus so our children can stay or return to the classroom,” Wolf said.
Keeping Businesses, Customers and Employees Safe
Wolf said the administration is revising and reissuing its orders to protect businesses, customers, and employees, with an order that 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.
Furthermore, 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
As Pennsylvania sees an increase in cases, the commonwealth is strengthening gathering restrictions. 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, 2020 only.
All indoor and outdoor events/ gatherings categories size limits will be reduced, with events of 0-2,000 limited to 10 percent of maximum occupancy.
In addition, household gatherings are also advised against when attendees include non-household members.
Further, to specifically address large crowds, on Nov. 25, 2020 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.
Ramping Up Enforcement
Orders already in place and those announced Monday are all enforceable, and law enforcement and state agencies will be stepping up enforcement efforts, issuing citations and fines, and possibly regulatory actions for repeat offenders.
Given that this is a critical time for mitigation efforts and orders to be followed, the Wolf Administration is stepping up enforcement on the following orders:
- Out of State Travel
- Business Safety, including telework, occupancy, cleaning, social distancing
- Restaurant Mitigation, including occupancy, masking, social distancing, self-certification
- Gathering Limits
- School Attestation and Mitigation
According to Wolf, orders are enforceable as a disease control measure under the Disease Prevention and Control Law.
Citations may be written under the Administrative Code of 1929 71 P. S. § 1409 and/or the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955 35 P.S. § 521.20(a). The decision whether to issue a warning or a citation is made on a case-by-case basis and determined by the unique circumstances of each encounter.
Persons who fail to comply with an order may be fined between $25 and $300 dollars.
Enforcement agencies include the Pennsylvania State Police, local law enforcement, personnel from the departments of Agriculture and State, and PA Liquor Control Board stores who interact with visitors.
“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,” Wolf said. “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.”