Police, Troopers Begin Enforcing Business Shutdown Orders

Businesses and organizations that violate the order face possible criminal penalties under the state administrative code and/or the 1955 disease prevention and control law. Both violations carry fines and potential jail time.

by Jeff Horvath, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. / March 24, 2020

(TNS) -- Dispatchers manning the Lackawanna County 911 Center received 10 reports by noon Monday of businesses defying Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown order.

And while county Emergency Management Director David Hahn said most if not all of those businesses in Moosic, Scott Twp., Scranton and elsewhere either had waivers to remain open or are considered life-sustaining under the governor’s directive, the reports from concerned residents underscore the unease felt by many as the coronavirus continues to spread in Pennsylvania.

Enforcement of Wolf’s order, which compels businesses not deemed life-sustaining to close in an effort to contain the virus, began at 8 a.m. Monday. The unprecedented directive gives state troopers, local police and other state agencies the power to penalize businesses that won’t comply.

Both Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano and Trooper Robert Urban, a spokesman for the Dunmore-based state police Troop R, said their agencies take seriously their enforcement role.

“If we go out and we see that this business or entity is practicing unsafe work habits and they’re going against the governor’s orders to shut down, enforcement action will be taken,” Urban said.

Carbondale Mayor Justin Taylor, who owns several businesses in the Pioneer City, said the shutdown order created confusion for owners of businesses that sell a variety of products or fulfill multiple needs.

The majority of business Taylor does at Mr. B’s Tobacco Shop, which he owns, involves tobacco sales, but he also maintains a stock of toilet paper, eggs, cleaning supplies and other high-demand products sold at businesses permitted to remain open during the pandemic. General merchandise stores, with the exception of department stores, are considered life-sustaining under the order and can continue to operate.

Who qualifies?

Taylor closed the tobacco shop pending a waiver from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, but fears fellow business owners may simply not know whether they qualify as life-sustaining. “I am in no way, shape or form saying that a tobacco store is a life-sustaining industry,” he said. “However, we carry more products than just tobacco.”

Businesses and organizations that violate the order face possible criminal penalties under the state administrative code and/or the 1955 disease prevention and control law. Both violations are summary offenses carrying fines and potentially jail time, according to state police.

Wolf issued the directive Thursday but rescinded some of the restrictions Friday in the face of fierce backlash, granting exceptions to the timber industry, coal mining, hotels, accountants, laundromats and law firms.

Scranton police will follow state guidance and first issue warnings to suspected violators, Graziano said.

Other businesses are adopting creative ways to serve customers while complying with coronavirus containment efforts.

A sign hanging in a window of the Waverly General Store in Waverly Twp. on Monday noted the business is temporarily closed in accordance with Wolf’s mandate but customers can still place orders by phone for daily curbside pickup by calling 570-586-1821. “The safety of our friends, families and our community is very important to us,” the sign read.

Sparkle Brite Auto Wash, a Wilkes-Barre car wash, sent an email Saturday alerting customers it will remain open under “auto maintenance guidelines” established by the governor — though it won’t allow customers to exit their vehicles and will operate on a reduced schedule, per the email.

Efforts to reach company representatives were unsuccessful Monday.

“I think most people are taking this very seriously and of course do not want to get sick,” Hahn said. “I think they are heeding the warnings.”

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