A Guide to Pennsylvania’s ‘Yellow Phase’ – the Key to Reopening Businesses in the Keystone State

May 12, 2020Alerts

For businesses in Pennsylvania that are currently shut down by government order, the process of reopening could begin when the state declares that your county has moved to the Yellow Phase.

This alert outlines the two-step process for determining whether your business is permitted to reopen during the Yellow Phase and the mandated safety measures for businesses that do so. At this time, some counties in the Northcentral and Northwestern regions of Pennsylvania have already moved to Yellow and others are set to do so on May 15.

Essential Reading

Two Pennsylvania government documents are required reading for businesses studying the questions of when and how to reopen.

The above links will take you to the most recent versions of the FAQs and Guidance. Note that the FAQs in particular change often, and have been not redlined by the Commonwealth, so you should check them for updates regularly. 

As explained in these documents, there are essentially two steps to deciding if you can reopen during the Yellow Phase:

Step One

Step One is determining whether your business is permitted to reopen. The keys here are FAQ Numbers 3 & 4, which discuss the businesses that cannot reopen under Yellow Phase. 

Businesses that must remain closed during Yellow Phase are:

  • Indoor recreation facilities
    including bowling , arcades, racquetball and other indoor sports or training, go-kart racing, laser tag, pool halls, trampoline facilities, indoor mini golf, and other similar facilities
  • Health and wellness facilities and personal care services
    including gyms, saunas, tattoo and piercing shops, tanning, spas, hair salons, nail salons, massage therapy, and other similar facilities). Swimming pools MAY OPEN in the Yellow Phase, so long as CDC guidelines are followed.
  • All entertainment venues
    including casinos, theaters, concerts, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, racetracks, professional, semiprofessional, or amateur/membership sports teams or clubs, amusement and water parks, carnivals, playgrounds, and other similar facilities
  • Indoor Shopping Malls
    unless the location has an exterior entrance (If a location is in a mall, and it does not have a separate outside entrance, it cannot reopen in Yellow Phase.)
  • Restaurants and Bars
    only open for curbside pickup, takeout or delivery  – the same as the Red Phase. HOWEVER, restaurants that have outside dining may open at 50 percent capacity and with all parties seated at tables distanced at least six feet apart.

There is one very important caveat to this list: Even in Yellow Phase, if a business – or portions of a business – can continue to telework remotely, it must continue to handle those functions (such as billing, accounts payable and accounts receivable) remotely. See FAQs 7 and 12.

Step Two

Assuming your business is permitted to reopen in Yellow Phase, Step Two is figuring out what has to be done to operate within the law.

FAQ number 6 says that a business permitted to operate must “strictly adhere to the” Guidance issued by the Governor and Health Secretary, unless that business is subject to a more stringent industry regulation. In that case, it must follow the more stringent regulation.

What does the Guidance say? It is very detailed and should be read thoroughly. Highlights include:

For Protection of Employees:

  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas frequently.
  • Develop before reopening a detailed plan for when the business has been “exposed” to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, including a detailed cleaning plan after closing and waiting 24 hours and notification plans for employees in close contact with potential case of COVID-19.
  • Stagger work start and stop times.
  • Place limits on the number of persons in and use of common rooms.
  • Conduct meetings virtually unless in-person is absolutely necessary; limit necessary meetings to no more than 10 persons.
  • Provide access to soap, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.
  • Provide face masks, and make masks mandatory at work site.

For Protection of Operations and Customers:

  • Conduct business by appointment only, if possible.
  • Limit number of people in location to 50% capacity, require all customers to wear face masks, unless under 2 years of age or with documented medical condition, and all customers must be socially distanced (minimum 6 feet apart).
  • Install shields at registers and checkout areas.
  • Encourage online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery.
  • Designate a specific time for high-risk persons, including those 65 and older, to utilize the business. Must have at least one such period per week.
  • Employees must have a handwashing break at least once every hour.
  • Shopping carts and/or handbaskets must be wiped down after every use.

Any business with inherently close contact between customers and employees is not permitted to reopen. So, if a music or art school-type were to reopen, it would need to ensure that instructors were safely masked AND socially distanced from customers.

Businesses should also consider consulting with their insurance agent and/or carrier about any requirements their insurance company may impose. You don’t want to reopen, get sued, and then receive a denial of coverage letter because the carrier imposed safety requirements you did not follow.


Additional Guidance

Pennsylvania has provided special guidance for

Links to the most current FAQs may found on the PA Department of Community and Economic Development homepage.