HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/CBS) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is ordering residents of the state’s hardest-hit areas to stay home to help combat the spread of the coronavirus that has already sickened hundreds and caused several deaths statewide. Wolf issued the stay-at-home order for Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties; Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh; and Monroe County in the Pocono Mountains.
Together, those counties account for 75% of the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19. The directive will cover 5.5 million people, or more than 40% of the state’s population.
Today I’m issuing a Stay at Home order for Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, & Montgomery counties. Starting at 8pm, residents must stay home unless someone’s life depends on leaving.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) March 23, 2020
The stay-at-home order will last two weeks for these counties and went into effect at 8 p.m.. Wolf says he wanted to define the order for the counties that have been hardest hit.
“I’m asking everyone to participate to their fullest extent. I know this is going to be difficult, even more than it is already. These restrictions are unlike anything we’ve experienced before,” Wolf said.
Yellow tape and fencing now block off a community playground in Conshohocken. It’s unclear when children’s laughter will be heard at places like this again.
According to Wolf, this is a disruption that the commonwealth has not experienced since the Civil War.
Wolf also extended school closures in the state for two more weeks, through at least April 6.
I’m also extending school closures and other statewide #COVID19 mitigation efforts for ALL counties for 2 more weeks.
These measures may seem extreme. However, we are in desperate times and need to make drastic changes in order to save lives. #COVID19
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) March 23, 2020
Wolf said residents will be able to leave their homes for “allowable activities,” including trips to the grocery store and the pharmacy. He did not say how it would be enforced.
Takeout eateries are also allowed to stay open but the governor asks that you think before you go.
“Do I really need to make this trip or am I going to put someone else’s life in jeopardy by making this trip?” Wolf said.
Outdoor exercise is also permitted if social distancing is obeyed.
Wolf said the administration wanted to take a “measured approach” to the crisis and expressed hope that if the coronavirus could be largely contained to the most heavily impacted counties, he could avoid extending his stay-at-home order to the entire state.
“The novel coronavirus has halted life as we knew it,” Wolf said. “I won’t pretend that things will not get worse before they get better.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney had already instituted a stay-at-home order for residents.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele spoke about enforcing the upgraded order for businesses who should but have not closed yet.
“There may be some businesses that are deemed not life-sustaining businesses under the order that might consider staying open,” Steele said. “My advice to you is don’t do it.”
The stay-at-home order comes as the number of coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania rose to 698. Six people have died from the virus in the state.
Wolf has imposed a series of progressively tougher measures in the face of a global pandemic that state officials say threatens to swamp hospitals and spike the death toll. The governor has already closed schools and ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shutter their physical locations, an edict that state police and other government agencies began enforcing Monday morning after Wolf beat back a pair of legal challenges.
COURT DISMISSES LAWSUIT ON NONESSENTIAL BUSINESSES
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a gun shop that challenged Wolf’s authority to shutter businesses deemed nonessential.
Without comment, a narrow majority of the state’s high court late Sunday denied the petition by a gun shop, a gun purchaser and a law firm to have Wolf’s shutdown order thrown out. The lawsuit had claimed Wolf’s edict violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms and other constitutional rights.
The court said a separate legal challenge to Wolf’s order to close law offices had become moot because of subsequent action that lets lawyers work from their physical locations to perform duties deemed essential by county or federal judges.
The Democratic governor has ordered all nonessential businesses to close their physical locations indefinitely, saying the measure is needed to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
In a dissenting statement joined by two other justices, Justice David Wecht said Wolf’s order amounts to “an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this commonwealth — a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment” and the state constitution. He called on Wolf to make some allowance for the in-person sale of firearms.
Wolf’s order to close down the physical locations of businesses deemed not essential to sustain life is being enforced as of Monday morning.
The Wolf administration has been sorting through nearly 10,000 waiver requests, saying their only consideration is health and safety.
State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said Monday that troopers are aiming at voluntary compliance, “not coming in with a hammer at 8:01” a.m., when the enforcement period began.
“Our goal is not to write a giant pile of citations,” he said.
Tarkowski said people who want to report a business that remains open should use non-emergency numbers to call state police or local police. “Please don’t call 911,” Tarkowski said.
WHAT’S OPEN, CLOSED
Businesses that remain open to the public include grocery stores, pharmacies, hotels and motels, beer distributors, laundromats and gas stations. Restaurants are only open for take-out orders. The open list also includes farms, mines, food production and some manufacturing.
Car dealers, clothing stores and other retailers, salons and entertainment venues are among those on the shuttered list.
On Monday, Pennsylvania officials extended the closure of facilities in state parks and forests until April 30. People with reservations for campgrounds, cabins and other overnight accommodations will get refunds.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said trails, lakes, forests, roads and parking areas remain open to the public, but urged people to practice social distancing and avoid crowded parking lots and trailheads.
The closure includes restrooms.
Pennsylvania health officials on Monday reported 165 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Pennsylvania, for a total of more than 690 in 34 counties.
Lackawanna County Coroner Tim Rowland confirmed the death of a 79-year-old man late Sunday, bringing the state’s overall death toll to six.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
The state House of Representatives began a non-voting session Monday, and the speaker assigned proposals to get emergency assistance for small businesses and to allow for electronic notarization of documents to committees. The State Government Committee planned to meet to consider legislation regarding the April 28 primary, which could be delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CBS3’s Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)