City orders all non-essential businesses to close

Philadelphia on Monday ordered all non-essential businesses to close their doors for at least 11 days in an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Restaurants and bars were forced to shut their doors by 5 p.m. Monday, and they are now only allowed to take online and phone orders for delivery and pick-up, officials announced at an afternoon press conference.

“These changes will disrupt life in Philadelphia,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “We do not make these changes lightly. We are well aware of the potential devastating effect it will have on the businesses and workers in our city.”

Businesses that will be allowed to remain open include supermarkets, grocery stores, big box stores, pharmacies, mini-markets, daycare centers, hardware stores, gas stations, laundromats, dry cleaners, veterinary clinics and pet stores.

Similar regulations went into effect state-wide at midnight.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said inspectors from the Health Department and Department of Licenses and Inspections would enforce the restrictions, which are backed by law.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley asked residents to call his department at 215-685-7495 if they spot an eatery serving people inside.

Abernathy said the restrictions would last until at least March 27. Kenney said the measures would remain in place for “as long as it takes.”

The city reported one additional coronavirus case Monday — a man in his 20s who had traveled to an area hit heavily by the pandemic— bringing the total up to nine. Pennsylvania has 76 confirmed cases; 30 of those are in Montgomery County.

Kenney said the restaurant industry has expressed interest in pulling together resources to keep their employees paid as much as possible.

The city is also working on a program to support small businesses, which are expected to be hit hard by the virus and its containment efforts.

It will involve new grants and zero-interest loans to businesses that make less than $5 million a year. Details are still being worked out and will be released in the coming days, officials said.

Business owners with questions can call the Department of Commerce’s hotline at 215-683-2100 or email [email protected]

Officials said municipal employees will soon join the ranks of those staying home from work. All non-essential city workers will not need to report to their offices Wednesday, and department heads are still deciding who will have to show up.

Abernathy said there have been no changes to police patrols and strategies.

Philadelphia courts shut down Tuesday, meaning anyone called for jury duty can stay home.

Most court functions are postponed, though preliminary arraignments, bail hearings, protection from abuse services, juvenile detention hearings, bench warrant proceedings and some aspects of the Traffic Division will continue. Sheriff sales have been delayed for the month of March.

SEPTA is implementing a severe weather schedule for Regional Rail lines beginning Tuesday due to changing ridership levels, the transportation system said on Twitter.

There was no word on additional changes to SEPTA operations. Kenney said he has heard of a recent decrease in ridership, but he and Abernathy said public transportation remains important to people who need to work or get medical care.

“It is a major lifeline to get to work so we’ll have to make that decision as we continue,” Kenney said. “It’s hour by hour.”

Farley said the Health Department is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines in recommending the cancellation of gatherings of 50 or more people. Smaller events should take extra precautions, he added.

The health chief, who has been giving daily updates on the virus, advised folks to adopt social distancing by trying to keep 6 feet away from other people and washing their hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.

Farley said those with any symptoms should stay home. The most common symptoms for COVID-19 are a fever and dry cough, he said.

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Jim Kenney discusses the city’s decision to close all non-essential businesses for at least 11 days in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19. PHOTO: JACK TOMCZUK
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley uses hand sanitizer during Monday’s press conference at City Hall. PHOTO: JACK TOMCZUK