Philadelphia Updates Non-Essential Business Closures Due to COVID-19 and Mandates Residents Stay at Home

On March 22, 2020, the mayor of Philadelphia issued an Emergency Order temporarily prohibiting operation of non-essential businesses and congregation of persons to prevent the spread of Covid-19, updating and extending his Order of March 17, 2020, and mandating all Philadelphia residents to stay at home except for limited purposes.  The Order goes into effect at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, March 23, 2020, and remains in effect “indefinitely.”  The mayor’s March 17 Order was set to expire on March 27, 2020. 

The March 22 Order incorporates the Pennsylvania governor’s Emergency Order, issued on March 19, and provides that only “Essential Businesses” – defined as Life-Sustaining Businesses under the governor’s Order – may remain open.  The mayor’s Order further provides “Philadelphia-specific” definitions and examples of types of life-sustaining businesses, grouped together by industry.  Notable changes/additions to the mayor’s March 17 Order include:

  • While grocery stores may remain open, they should discourage non-shopping activity (leisure or idling) and manage store occupancy to allow for social distancing. 
  • Walk-in takeout ordering at restaurants is expressly prohibited.
  • “Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses," defined as “establishments primarily engaged in retailing all types of merchandise using non-store means, such as catalogs, toll free telephone numbers, or electronic media” may continue to operate. 
  • Permissible construction work is limited only to construction for (i) medical, pharmaceutical, and healthcare facilities (includes nonemergency construction); (ii) City Essential Infrastructure Projects; and (iii) emergency repairs for most other construction projects, including residential and commercial.  Under the March 17 Order, “General construction services” was permitted. 
  • Restricted access to law offices and facilities by legal professionals, staff, and clients is permitted only to the degree necessary to allow attorneys to participate in court functions.  This incorporates guidance issued by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.  

The March 22 Order clarifies that businesses that are required to suspend physical operations may have essential on-site personnel to maintain critical functions, such as security, processing of essential operations (e.g., payroll and benefits for employees; maintaining remote technology infrastructure), and other facilities support services permitted by the governor’s Order (e.g., janitorial, maintenance, trash disposal, mail routing, and reception).  Businesses are also permitted to maintain essential on-site personnel to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local regulatory requirements. 

Like the March 17 Order, the mayor’s March 22 Order does not apply to virtual or remote business operations (e.g., work from home).  According to the Order, businesses seeking exemptions should apply for them through the Commonwealth.

Under the Order’s stay-at-home provisions, all Philadelphia residents are required to remain in their homes unless engaged in “Essential Personal Activities,” which include reporting to, working at, or obtaining essential goods or services from businesses that are permitted to remain open; seeking medical attention; caring for family members, friends, or pets in another household; exercising or engaging in outdoor activities, provided social distancing rules are followed; leaving home for educational, religious, or political reasons; and other activities “essential to health and safety.”  Homeless individuals are exempt from the Order’s stay-at-home provisions, but are urged to obtain shelter through City agencies. 

Philadelphia businesses should immediately assess the effect of the mayor’s updated Order on their operations.  Businesses seeking clarification on whether they are Essential or Non-Essential under the Order should consult with legal counsel.     

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.