Pennsylvania mandates masks, other rules for businesses

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Businesses across Pennsylvania will be compelled to take heightened measures to protect employees and customers from the novel coronavirus starting Sunday night.

Essential businesses, including grocery stores, will have to provide masks for employees and require all customers to wear face coverings. They will also be forced limit the amount of people inside to half the number allowed in their certificate of occupancy.

In addition, workplaces that remain open will have to take employees’ temperatures as they arrive for their shift and send them home if it’s 100.4 degrees or higher.

The order, signed by state Health Secretary Rachel Levine, also includes several protocols to enforce social distancing and cleanliness. It goes into effect at 8 p.m. Sunday.

“This order provides critical protections for the workers needed to run and operate these life-sustaining establishments,” Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement.

Those in violation of the order could receive citations, fines and license suspensions, according to the Governor’s Office. Healthcare providers are exempt.

Philadelphia reported 311 new COVID-19 cases and 16 additional deaths. The increase in new cases appears to be slowing, though officials are worried about laboratories lagging behind in reporting results.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 7,441 city residents have been infected and 222 people have died.

In Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, there are 1,428 people hospitalized with the coronavirus, according to Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. He said the healthcare system is not overwhelmed, but some hospitals are nearing capacity.

“The hospital data says that we’re not necessarily past the worst of this yet,” he said Wednesday. “I’m hopeful that we’re near the top, but we’re maybe not past the worst of it.”

Soon, some medical centers may need to transfer or divert patients to other hospitals, Farley added.

Meanwhile, city officials announced new agreements to lease two Marriott hotels, the Fairfield Inn and Suites, at 13th and Spruce streets, and SpringHill Suites, near Philadelphia International Airport, for quarantine and isolation space for first responders, including doctors and nurses.

Those sites are in addition to the Holiday Inn Express on Walnut Street, which now has 40 occupants, including people who are homeless and police officers, firefighters and medical workers.

For the three hotels, the city is paying a total of $424,000 a month and getting 412 rooms, according to information provided by Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

Farley said Temple University’s Liacouras Center will be ready to open if needed on Thursday. It has 180 beds and will accept coronavirus patients who are on the mend after receiving treatment at a hospital. The site will be staffed by volunteers and city-paid medical workers.

In other COVID-19-related news, the city is setting up sites to serve infants and seniors.

In partnership with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, the city is planning to operate 23 grab-and-go meal locations for people 60 and older. Each senior who registers will receive five-to-seven meals a week, and they can arrange for a friend or family member to pick up the food.

Three of the sites, city-operated older adult centers in Northeast Philly, Fairhill and North Philly, will serve residents 55 and older.

People interested in the program are asked to call ahead and register. For a list of sites and phone numbers, visit

Mothers or other caregivers with babies now have nine sites where they can pick up free supplies, including diapers. Most of the locations require an appointment. For more details, go to the city’s coronavirus site, which is listed above.

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