All of Pennsylvania is now under a stay at home order. The same is true in many other states. In other states, if the entire state is not under an order, local governments may be shutting things down. Here are some common things I have seen people ask about.
What Does Stay at Home Mean?
In Pennsylvania, people are allowed to leave their homes only for necessary reasons such as grocery shopping, picking up medicines, so on and so forth. Pennsylvanians are also allowed to bring supplies to people in need. In addition, people are allowed to go outside to walk or exercise as long as they practice proper social distancing. This means at least six feet away from people with whom they do not currently reside. Check the law in your own jurisdiction to find out whether you have a stay at home order and what it means for you.
The penalties and the level of enforcement varies greatly at the moment. We can expect to see more enforcement as time passes if people continue to refuse to cooperate. In most cases, I imagine this means a fine, but it could mean getting arrested and taken to jail. So please, stay home.
Family Visits are Risky
If you have elderly or infirm family members who need food or supplies, you should drop off the food, and leave. If they need help, you should minimize your contact with them as much as possible, do whatever you need to do and leave. Otherwise, you should simply stay away from family members that do not live with you. Use video technology to communicate.
Understand, you may have COVID-19 and not even know it. And while it could be minor for you, it could be deadly for them. While the elderly and infirm people are more likely to get very sick and die, young healthy people can as well. Don’t assume you are safe. You should assume you have the virus in your interactions with other people and act accordingly.
Store Browsing is Not Appropriate Folks
Some store employees have commented that people are bringing their children or just wandering around the stores. This is not the thing to do folks. If you need to bring your children because they are young, there is no one to watch them, and you have no other choice, that is one thing. If your children can stay home, leave them at home. Nor should you be wandering around stores because you are bored at home. You should only go out for things that are critical. Try to shop for a week or two at a time so you don’t have to keep going out. Do not hoard, but you also do not want to be running to the store every few days.
When you go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or whatever other essential tasks you need to perform, please, get what you need, check out, and leave as quickly as possible.
- Wipe down the cart or basket with a disinfectant before you start. You may want to bring your own in case the store is having trouble keeping it stocked.
- Do not touch things you don’t plan on buying. If you pick it up, buy it. COVID-19 stays on surfaces for however long. If you just put something back on the shelf and you have the virus, you could infect someone.
- Stand back and let other people get what they need. Wait your turn to get your item.
- Give others at least six feet of space. Don’t crowd.
- Respect the space of store employees.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover with a tissue or inner elbow.
- If you use reusable bags, don’t expect store employees to touch them. Either launder the bags when you get home or leave them outside or another safe space for at least 72 hours. Otherwise, use plastic bags provided by the store and put them in recycling. I know some places got rid of plastic bags.
- Pay electronically if you can. It is better not to have to hand over cash or a check. Some stores may not even be taking anything other than electronic payments. Use your own pen or a gloved hand to push the buttons on the machine. Hold the machine’s pen in a tissue or gloved hand if you need to sign.
- Follow whatever steps you think are appropriate for disinfecting things you buy or get delivered. I have a long post on what I do, but I am probably doing more than is necessary. I have seen different recommendations. I go to the more extreme side of those recommendations as provided by virologists and medical professionals.
Employees are Risking their Lives for You
Remember, the folks working in stores, many of them making minimum wage, are literally risking their lives for you. Be appreciative and support them. If you get things delivered, please treat the delivery people and shoppers well and tip generously, if you can. By the way, you should always treat employees well not just during a pandemic.
Essential Businesses Only
Every state has different definitions of “essential business”. No doubt, every business thinks it is essential. The reality is unless you can get a waiver if you are not on the list, you need to close. You may work from home and your employees may work from home if that is an option for them. If you are a lawyer, I have posted a lot of information to help set up home offices. I will be posting more every few days. If you are not a lawyer, if you have a similar type of business you may find the information I have posted useful as well.
Pennsylvania Essential Businesses
Here is the current Pennsylvania Essential Business list as of April 1. Here are frequently asked questions answered by Pennsylvania. If you want to apply for a waiver, you will find information on the PA Website here. The website is very slow right now. Currently, the last day to apply for a waiver is Friday, April 3.
Law Firms are Not Essential But…
Law firms are not deemed essential and lawyers are expected to move their work to home and to let their employees work from home, or close up. Previously the Pennsylvania Supreme Court provided a limited exception. On April 1, the Court provided this additional information, citing its original exception:
“Guidance has been provided by the executive branch explaining that members of the legal profession “may continue physical operations . . . as required to allow attorneys to participate in court functions deemed essential by a president judge per the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order of March 18, 2020, or similar federal court directive, and lawyers may access their offices to effectuate such functions and directives.” (citation omitted). Paragraph 13 of the Governor’s Frequently Asked Questions additionally advises that businesses that are otherwise required to suspend in-person operations may “retain essential personnel to process payroll and insurance claims, maintain security, and engage in similar limited measures on an occasional basis,” subject to the caveat that “telework (i.e. working from home) should be employed whenever possible, and social distancing must be observed.” (Citation omitted).
I have uploaded the full order here. This order addresses the current status of the courts as well as their closure to the general public.
If Your Business Needs Help
Many businesses are struggling right now. If your business needs help the CARES Act offers options. I have a link to a couple of useful pieces of information in a prior post. Check and see if you are eligible for the $10,000 grant, and/or unemployment. If you had to lay off employees you may find that you can reverse this and pay them. Many of these benefits are available for sole proprietors, independent contractors, and gig workers. Including unemployment compensation.
Talk with your Creditors
Most creditors are being extremely understanding. If you cannot pay your bills, call and explain that your problems are due to COVID-19. I am reading and hearing story after story about extremely generous extensions, in many cases with no extra interest or fees. Do not wait, contact your creditors for help now.
Evictions and Foreclosures on Hold
Many states have put evictions on hold. This is likely to expand throughout the country. In Pennsylvania, this order is extended through April 30, 2020. Many foreclosures are on hold as well.
If you cannot pay your rent, speak to your landlord. Unless you have a very generous landlord, sooner or later you will have to get caught up, so keep this in mind. In some jurisdictions, the landlord may be allowed to go through the initial aspects of the eviction, get it approved, and then have you physically removed once the order is lifted. If you have questions either hire a lawyer or look and see if you qualify for legal aid. To find a lawyer, on Google, search landlord/tenant attorney for your county or search legal aid for your county. You can also call the state or local bar association or look on sites such as Avvo.
If you cannot pay your mortgage, call your bank. Banks seem to be willing to work with people. Again, if you need legal help, do a search on Google mortgage/foreclosure lawyer and your county, city or state. Or call your local or state bar association or look on a site such as Avvo.
Courts are Open for Emergencies and Other Functions
The status of courts across the country varies greatly. In any case, courts are open for emergency situations at least. Lawyers still have deadlines to meet, so make sure you check and see if deadlines are extended before you make any assumptions. In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, courts are closed to the general public right now. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court order from April 1 has more information.
If you are called for jury duty, check the website of your court or call the court to find out if you are still required to show. Many courts have stopped jury service for the moment. Check though, you don’t want to get in trouble for just not showing up if you still have jury duty.
Child Support is Not On Hold
If you have child support obligations, you are required to continue paying them. In fact, child support arrears is one of the few reasons people will be denied the CARES Act check if they are otherwise eligible. Kids still need to eat, folks. I specifically mention this because it has been a surprisingly common question.
These are a number of items people have asked me about or I thought would be helpful. If you have questions use the contact form to ask me and I will try to add to this post. Please do not ask for legal advice though.