Effective at 8:00pm on Monday, March 23, 2020, Governor Wolf issued a “stay-at home” order for seven counties in Pennsylvania which have been most affected by the coronavirus. In Western Pennsylvania, only Allegheny County is subject to the order at this time. However, governmental entities in other counties should be aware of the provisions of the order in the event that it is extended to other areas of the state. The following is a brief summation of the major points of the order.
First, the order makes clear that all “life sustaining businesses” as were outlined in Governor Wolf’s prior order are permitted to remain open and operating. All non-life sustaining businesses are required to cease operations unless the employees can continue doing business by working remotely. Nothing in the new “stay at home” order changes the guidance previously issued from our office as to what classifications of governmental employees can work in physical locations and which must work remotely. For School Districts, those individuals who are needed to monitor the District’s essential physical infrastructure, including information technology (i.e. maintenance personnel and IT personnel), those required to process payroll and related items (Business staff), those who are providing food-service related services to the District’s students, and top-level District Administration, such as the District Superintendent, are permitted to work at the District’s buildings to ensure continuity of operations. For municipalities, first responders such as police officers and firefighters are certainly considered essential and should continue to operate as normal. To the extent that public works employees must perform activities that are related to maintaining the municipality’s critical infrastructure and ensuring public safety, those employees can continue working. Sewage treatment and water facility operations have specifically been classified as life sustaining operations under the Governor’s order. Employees working in those areas are permitted to work, but should observe social distancing practices.
The stay at home order generally prohibits individual activities and non-essential travel except for certain exempted activities. By way of example, individuals are permitted to perform tasks essential to their own or their families’ health or wellness, obtain food and medicine from a grocery store, or exercise outside while maintaining social distancing practices. Individuals are only permitted to travel for certain purposes, including: in connection with their work for life-sustaining businesses, to care for elderly individuals or minors, to travel pursuant to court order, or, importantly for school districts, traveling to or from educational institutions for the purposes of receiving resources for distance learning, for receiving meals, or other related services.
Essentially, the stay at home order does not change our previous guidance as to which employees may continue working in their normal duties. Public entities are reminded of their responsibilities to comply with the Governor’s orders and ensure that non-essential personnel are working remotely. If your public body requires advice on the interpretation of this, or any other order, please contact our office.