Local businesses adjusting after Wolf's mandate to cease physical operations

Area funeral homes, such as John J. Lopatich Funeral Home Inc. along Weldon Street in Latrobe, have been among the scores of businesses impacted by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Keeping with national coronavirus guidelines, individuals at funeral services are asked to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another, and are urged to refrain from traditional greetings or signs of affection such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands.

Many area businesses have closed their doors after Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday issued a sweeping shutdown order to tens of thousands of “non-life-sustaining” businesses while others permitted to remain open are doing so with modifications to their normal hours or manner of operation.

Citing his authority under the state’s disaster declaration law, Wolf, a Democrat, ordered more than 150 types of businesses to close their physical locations, warning that enforcement against violators would begin Saturday. It was among the toughest measures yet taken by a U.S. governor in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It also drew fierce condemnation from majority Republicans in the Legislature.

“I had hoped for voluntary compliance so our public safety officials could focus on assisting with the crisis,” Wolf said in a video statement. “Unfortunately we have not seen full compliance. We have no time to lose.”

Wolf said his order would be enforced by state troopers, local officials, the Pennsylvania Health and Agriculture departments and Liquor Control Board. The two-term governor had previously said he would not use police for enforcement.

Businesses that fail to comply risk citations, fines or license suspensions, and “forfeit their ability to receive any applicable disaster relief and/or may be subject to other appropriate administrative action,” Wolf’s office said in a statement.

Criminal prosecution is also a possibility, with violators subject to fines or imprisonment, Wolf’s office said.

Republican lawmakers warned of economic devastation and accused Wolf of setting off panic. Senate GOP leaders late Thursday pushed Wolf for more transparency and the opportunity for business owners to appeal, while their House counterparts suggested they might challenge Wolf in the courts.

Among those allowed to stay open are gas stations, grocery stores, beer distributors, drug stores and building materials stores. Restaurants and bars can continue to offer carry-out, delivery and drive-thru food and drink service, but not dine-in service.

Businesses under shut down orders range from coal mines to building contractors to many types of manufacturers, plus professional offices including law firms and accounting offices.

Retailers ordered to close include car dealers, clothing stores, furniture stores, florists, office supply stores and lawn and garden stores.

Laundromats were on the initial list of businesses ordered to close, but Lt. Gov. John Fetterman tweeted Friday that "laundromats are deemed essential and are to remain open. Let this further illustrate that this is a fluid list, and changes can and will be made."

Wolf’s directive also prohibits elective health procedures as officials work to help hospitals create more capacity in anticipation of a surge in coronavirus patients.

Among the businesses allowed to stay open, restaurants have moved to comply with the orders prohibiting dine-in service. Many restaurants have also introduced new "curbside pickup" options in addition to traditional takeout and delivery services to help limit person-to-person contact.

Grocery stores locally have reduced their hours of operation to allow more time for restocking and disinfecting, and are offering early morning shopping hours reserved for those who are especially at risk from coronavirus exposure.

Starting Sunday, March 22, the Shop ‘n Save store at Latrobe's Lincoln Road Shopping Center will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The hour of 7 to 8 a.m. will be reserved for senior citizens and shoppers with disabilities.

Giant Eagle on March 14 announced all Giant Eagle and Market District stores would open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. seven days a week.

The Giant Eagle store in Ligonier has been using its Facebook page to provide frequent updates on deliveries to the store and the store's stock of certain items like toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, meat, bread, dairy, eggs and produce.

The store on Friday began having a dedicated "Senior Hour" from 6 to 7 a.m. to allow at-risk shoppers access to the store before it is open to the public.

Even global retailers like Walmart are adjusting store hours during the virus outbreak. Since Thursday, U.S. Walmart stores, many of which were typically open 24 hours a day, have only been open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to provide associates with more time overnight to restock shelves and clean and sanitize the stores. 

Starting Tuesday, March 24, Walmart is offering special shopping hours for customers age 60 and older. From March 24 through April 28, Walmart stores will host an hour-long senior shopping event every Tuesday starting one hour before the store opens. Walmart pharmacies and vision centers will also be open during this time.

Westmoreland Mall in Hempfield Township had remained open, but following Wolf's mandate Thursday announced the mall would close, effective March 20, until further notice.

Stores with exterior entrances may remain open, according to the mall's website, and certain restaurants at the mall may remain open for curbside pickup or delivery services only.

Banks and credit unions have also taken steps to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commercial Bank & Trust of PA announced its branches at 900 Ligonier St. in Latrobe and its Courthouse Square branch at 19 N. Main St. in Greensburg will be closed and all of its branch lobbies will be closed Saturdays until further notice, with drive-up service Saturdays continuing with limited hours. Access to safe deposit boxes will be available by appointment only Saturdays, or during the week at the closed Latrobe and Courthouse Square branches. 

Effective Friday, PNC made temporary adjustments to its retail branch network, operating primarily in a drive-up only mode. The PNC branch at the Latrobe 30 Shoppes along Route 30 in Unity Township remains open for drive-up business only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. The branch's lobby will be closed until further notice.

Essential appointments for PNC customers will be available on designated days of the week for safe deposit box access, loan closings or other banking services that cannot be delivered through the drive-up, by telephone, through PNC's ATM network or via mobile or online banking. If an appointment is essential, customers should visit the PNC branch locator online to find the most convenient open branch.

Keeping with national coronavirus guidelines, a sign at the door of John J. Lopatich Funeral Home Inc. in Latrobe noted that individuals at funeral services are asked to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another, and are urged to refrain from traditional greetings or signs of affection such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands.

The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association have encouraged funeral homes to consider limiting services to immediate family and moving public memorials to a later date, among other modifications.

A recent memo from association president David Peake Jr. stated that the removal of bodies “from anywhere other than hospitals” is considered essential. He also advised members to alter procedures that include holding bodies for (approximately) two weeks, not having public viewings, and if viewings must be held, to limit such events to small family gatherings. He added that memorial services can be held at a later date.

“There is no one that is going to tell you to shut (down) your business," he wrote to funeral directors. "However, common sense dictates you should severely limit any interaction with other human beings.”

Jason Brinker, Lopatich's funeral director, said the business is doing its best to accommodate immediate families of the deceased, regardless of size.

"We're going to serve these families with as close to the type of arrangements that they ask for, keeping in mind that our primary duty is to keep them safe," he said. "People think that funeral directors only deal with the dead — our main concern is with the living."

Brinker said the funeral home is not policing whether family members or friends of the deceased embrace or shake hands, but is encouraging loved ones "to use common sense and be careful." He added that a warm smile or eye contact is capable of being just as meaningful as a handshake or hug.

John A. Graziano, president and supervisor of Hartman-Graziano Funeral Home, and John McCabe, agreed the pandemic has changed the way their businesses handle funeral arrangements.

"We're conforming with the CDC's recommendations of no public visitation and we are limiting private family gatherings to 10 people or less, using social distancing, no processions and things like that," Graziano said. "It has changed the way we do business, definitely."

McCabe said families haven't necessarily embraced the changes to traditional arrangements that prohibit large gatherings, but they have been willing to adhere to the guidelines in the interest of public health.

"I think they're understanding," McCabe said of families' reactions to the state-mandated restrictions. "They're upset, but they're understanding. These are really scary times. Nobody really knows what's going on."

"We've had two services during these times and both families were very understanding," Graziano added. "...The people seem to care about what's going on and are willing to abide by necessary precautions."

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected municipalities, with the City of Latrobe's Municipal Building (City Hall) along Jefferson Street remaining closed. City staff members will be available during regular business hours to take phone calls or answer any questions. Individuals who need to speak with the city police department are asked to call 911.

While City Hall remains closed to the public, residents will be able to use the city’s transfer station and recycling center starting Monday, March 23. Both facilities will be open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. but there will be a modified work schedule for city employees. City Manager Michael Gray noted that residents may also pick up garbage stickers at the transfer station or the Shop ‘n Save store along Lincoln Avenue.

Residents can receive updates by checking the city website at cityoflatrobe.com. Gray also encourages residents to call the city office whenever needed.

The Unity Township Supervisors have closed the municipal building for the week of March 19-27, according to Supervisor Mike O'Barto. The supervisors will be answering voicemails and emails while the building is closed, he noted. The township's general email is info@unitytownship.org and the township phone number is 724-539-2546. Residents can receive updates by checking the township's website at unitytownship.org.

The Derry Township Supervisors have similarly closed the township office for in-person visits to the municipal building because of the ongoing coronavirus threat to public health and safety. All correspondence and interactions should be done by phone, calling 724-694-8835 or communicating via electronic means at derrytownship@comcast.net. The status of the next supervisors’ meeting April 7 has yet to be determined.

The supervisors also announced Derry Township will no longer take recyclable items in the two 30-yard containers behind the gates at the township building. Recyclable items include plastic, cans and cardboard. The township will still accept papers in the bins at the front parking area.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Ligonier Borough, Ligonier Township and the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce announced that Ligonier Town Hall and the Ligonier Township Municipal Complex will be closed to the public for at least the next 10 business days. If residents are in need of assistance, they are urged to contact Ligonier Borough offices at 724-238-9852 or ligonierboro@comcast.net or Ligonier Township manager Terry Carcella at 724-388-2043 or tcarcella@ligoniertownship.com or zoning officer Jim Nieusma at 941-979-2933 or jnieusma@ligoniertownship.com.

Ligonier Valley police also announced that parking in the borough will be free starting Friday, March 20, until further notice. Other parking violations, police said, will continue to be enforced.

The Latrobe Bulletin will continue to publish the news of eastern Westmoreland County amid the coronavirus pandemic, both in print or online at www.latrobebulletinnews.com. However, in keeping with the governor's directive to limit the potential spread of the virus, the Bulletin business office is closed to the public. Phones will be staffed during normal business hours and there is a drop-off box located at the front door of the building for customer use.

Home delivery will not be affected. Stores that are remaining open for business will also be selling daily copies. Customers can contact the Bulletin at 724-537-3351 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday with any questions.

NOTE: Staff writer Nick Cammuso contributed to this story, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

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