Enforcement of Tom Wolf’s order shutting “non-essential” businesses in Pennsylvania due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was to begin at 12:01 am today, will be delayed until March 23 at 8:00 am. In an earlier iteration, the order was explained this way:
“This isn’t a decision I take lightly at all,” [Tom] Wolf said. “It is one that I’m making because medical experts believe it is the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”
I had stopped in at my favorite vegan restaurant in the Pittsburgh area, Fortuitea out in North Strabane (it’s kind of a long ways out and I am only occasionally out that way), yesterday because I needed coffee (they sell a Tanzania Peaberry I’m fond of) and was talking with the family there that owns the business about the situation while I waited for my food that I would eat in my car in their parking lot. What’s getting them—and really me too—is the uncertainty. This is Wolf’s third version of a statewide order shutting some businesses down and permitting others to remain open, which followed an order shutting restaurants and bars in five Pennsylvania counties, and an Allegheny County order (North Strabane is in Washington County, so this didn’t affect Fortuitea) requesting “non-essential” businesses to close. Each time, we have to figure out if we’re being shut down.
Just glancing at the revised list, it appears there are more types of businesses being shut down. One of my reasons for going yesterday was I was afraid I might already be too late. I wanted to get the coffee while I could. It looks like neither of us are shut down yet.
As the economic shutdown becomes broader, there is a real risk of doing more damage by threatening peoples’ livelihoods as well as their well-being than the virus will do. There is a point where more harm can be done than good. Voluntary social distancing is one thing and advisable, but government force is quite another.
But also, neither of us have the margin to be shut down. It’s bad enough to imagine that a $1200 (or whatever) check from the federal government, assuming it even comes, will paper over my crisis. That family has rent to pay on their restaurant. This shutdown order, to us, is just rich and powerful people thinking we have the resources to survive this. We don’t.
Then there are the businesses to which this has already happened.
There are ripple effects as well: I had to go to West Virginia to get my phone activated with dual SIM, dual standby, in large part due to uncertainty as to whether I could get it activated in Pennsylvania. That’s crucial to my business—and yes, the new cell phone is indeed working very much better, including in unexpected ways (most visibly, Google Maps works much better, I think because it doesn’t only rely on GPS to determine my location) which are helping me to survive this, which also means I’m thinking I got that phone not a moment too soon.
But another ripple effect is that when people have nowhere to go, they don’t need transportation to get there. They don’t need Uber. They don’t need Lyft. They don’t need me.
I don’t want to minimize the danger posed by coronavirus. But what’s happening here is that a draconian order is being imposed collectively on individuals who have been making their way in an individualistic system of social organization. To do something this drastic requires collective resources where we, as a society under neoliberal ideology, have been stingy even before this crisis, and where the collective resources that might yet be on offer are woefully inadequate to the catastrophe being wrought on people’s lives.
We are not going to be alright.
- Kara Seymour, “All ‘Non-Life-Sustaining’ Businesses In PA Must Close By 8 PM,” Patch, March 19, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h20cy/all-non-life-sustaining-businesses-in-pa-must-close-by-8-pm↩
- KDKA, “Coronavirus In Pennsylvania: Gov. Wolf’s Order To Close ‘Non-Life-Sustaining Businesses’ To Be Delayed,” March 20, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/03/20/gov-wolfs-order-to-close-non-life-sustaining-businesses-to-be-delayed/↩
- Megan Guza, “Gov. Wolf orders nonessential Pennsylvania businesses to shut down,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 16, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-orders-all-nonessential-pennsylvania-businesses-to-shut-down/↩
- Ben Schmitt, “Wolf’s shutdown could be more harmful than coronavirus, health expert says,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 20, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/pittsburgh-infectious-disease-expert-discusses-business-shutdown-order-effect-on-society/; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Small businesses scramble to survive amid Pa.’s partial shutdown over coronavirus pandemic,” March 20, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/small-businesses-scramble-to-survive-amid-pa-s-partial-shutdown-over-coronavirus-pandemic/↩
- Megan Guza, “Gov. Wolf orders nonessential Pennsylvania businesses to shut down,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 16, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-orders-all-nonessential-pennsylvania-businesses-to-shut-down/; Kara Seymour, “Restaurants, Bars In 5 PA Counties Ordered Closed By Governor,” Patch, March 15, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h1utv/restaurants-bars-in-5-pa-counties-ordered-closed-by-governor↩
- WTAE, “Allegheny County officials call on all nonessential businesses to close,” March 16, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/allegheny-county-calls-on-all-non-essential-businesses-to-close/31648999↩
- Amesh Adalja, quoted in Ben Schmitt, “Wolf’s shutdown could be more harmful than coronavirus, health expert says,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 20, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/pittsburgh-infectious-disease-expert-discusses-business-shutdown-order-effect-on-society/↩
- Kate Aronoff, “The Democrats Screwed Up,” New Republic, March 20, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/156994/democrats-screwed; Jeff Stein et al., “Senate Republicans release massive economic stimulus bill for coronavirus response,” Washington Post, March 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/19/trump-coronavirus-economic-plan-stimulus/↩