State & Local Governments Issue New COVID-19 Restrictions
With a resurgence of COVID-19 cases throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, state and local governments recently have announced new mitigation efforts, as outlined below.
On November 17, 2020, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued an order (PDF) requiring anyone who visits from another state to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering the Commonwealth. If a traveler cannot get a test or chooses not to, he or she is required under the order to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Pennsylvania. In addition, Pennsylvanians visiting other states are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to their return to the Commonwealth or to quarantine for 14 days upon return to Pennsylvania. This order, which takes effect on Friday, November 20, 2020, does not apply to people who commute to and from another state for work or medical treatment. Any time spent in quarantine under Dr. Levine’s order likely would be covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides for, among other things, emergency paid sick leave for any individual who “is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.”
In addition, Dr. Levine issued an order (PDF) strengthening prior orders regarding the requirement of face covering in the Commonwealth. The new order, which applies to all indoor facilities, including businesses, homes, retail establishments, gyms, doctors’ offices, public transportation, and anywhere food is prepared, packaged or served, provides the following:
- Masks are required to be worn indoors and outdoors when away from an individual’s home.
- When outdoors, a mask must be worn when physical distancing (at least 6 feet away) is not possible between members of different households.
- When indoors, masks are required even if individuals are physically distant from other individuals who are not members of their household. This means that, even if individuals are able to be 6 feet apart, a mask is required while inside if the individuals are members of different households. There is an exception for individuals working alone, which means that a person is isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interruption. Examples include: a lone worker inside the enclosed cab of a crane of construction equipment; a person by themselves inside an office with four walls and a door; a lone worker inside a cubicle with 3 walls and a door or entryway, with walls high enough to block the breathing zone of all people walking by, and the worker’s activity will not require anyone to come inside of the worker’s workspace; and an employee who is alone in an agricultural field or other open area with no anticipated contact with others.
In addition, exceptions to face covering requirements may be made:
- if wearing a face covering while working would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines;
- if wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability. In the case of an employment situation, employers should engage employees in an interactive process under the Americans with Disabilities Act to determine if reasonable accommodation can be made without undue hardship;
- when necessary to confirm the individual’s identity;
- while obtaining a service that requires the temporary removal of the face covering, such as dental services;
- when working alone and isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interaction; or
- if an individual is communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
Philadelphia has announced new “Safer at Home” restrictions, effective November 20, 2020 through January 1, 2021. According to the announcement, certain activities are not allowed, including indoor dining at restaurants, and certain businesses must be closed, including gyms, theaters and museums. In addition, changes to events and gatherings include:
- All indoor gatherings and events involving people from more than one household are prohibited, in public or private spaces, including private events such as weddings and showers.
- Outdoor gatherings and events are limited to 10 percent of maximum capacity of the space, or 10 people per 1,000 sq. ft. for venues with an undefined maximum capacity—not to exceed 2,000 people in any outdoor space. In addition, all individuals at outdoor gatherings must wear masks at all times, and—to reinforce mask use—neither food nor beverages may be served.
Additional changes to capacity limits and other precautions will be instituted for businesses and activities that are able to continue include the following:
- Offices are permitted to have only employees who cannot work remotely.
- Restaurants offering outdoor dining must reduce table sizes to four people from the same household.
- Retail stores and indoor malls may continue to operate, but with reduced density and enforced mask usage.
On November 17, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 196 (PDF), which lowers indoor and outdoor gathering limits. Effective Tuesday, November 17 at 6:00 a.m., the indoor gathering limit was decreased from 25 to 10 people. The outdoor gathering limit will decrease from 500 people to 150 people, effective Monday, November 23 at 6:00 a.m.
In addition, on October 27, 2020, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 192 to provide mandatory health and safety standards to protect New Jersey workers physically present in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read MEA’s prior alert on EO 192.
When in doubt about the appropriate course of action in complying with state and local restrictions, employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel. For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.
Amy G. McAndrew, Esquire
Director of Legal and Compliance Services
MidAtlantic Employers’ Association
*This Alert is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.