PSATS Daily COVID-19 News

Commonwealth Reviewing CDC Quarantine Guidance 

At a press conference yesterday, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine stated that the Department of Health is reviewing new quarantine guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Levine said the Department is working to align state recommendations for quarantine with the new CDC guidance, which would reduce the time spent in quarantine, and is expected to release updated guidance soon. This is expected to include revisions to the state’s travel quarantine order.  

Capitol Complex Closes to Public, Rallies and Special Events 

The Department of General Services announced that beginning Monday, December 7, the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex will be closed to rallies, school or group tours, holiday choir performances, receptions, and other public gatherings until further notice due to rising COVID-19 cases. All operations of the Governor’s Office and General Assembly will continue, but access will be limited to employees and people with badge keycard credentials. Click here for more. Government is not closed. 

Previous PSATS Daily COVID-19 News

COVID-19 Guidance for Townships

What You Should Know about the Commonwealth Travel Quarantine Order  

Townships should consider requiring employees to comply with the commonwealth’s new travel quarantine order. The order requires any Pennsylvanian who travels to another state and anyone who visits from another state to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering Pennsylvania or during the 14-day travel quarantine period. There are exceptions for commuting to work, returning to Pennsylvania after less than 24 hours, medical needs, military personnel, individuals complying with a court order, and travelers passing through Pennsylvania.  

If a traveler does not have their test results at the time they enter the Commonwealth, they must remain at their destination with no in-person contact with anyone outside their traveling party until they receive their test results. If the results are negative, they may leave travel quarantine. If someone cannot get a test or chooses not to, they must quarantine for 14 days. Click here for more about the travel order.   

Townships could require employees to provide proof of a negative test to shorten the length of potential leave. Additional township required tests would be at the township’s expense. If the test is negative, employees could be required to return to work.   

If an employee must quarantine due to the order, the leave would be covered under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), which would require the township to provide additional paid leave of up to 10 days for any employee at their regular hours and rates. Employees who can telework during a quarantine would not be eligible for FFCRA leave. Townships may exempt emergency personnel, including public works employees, from receiving FFCRA leave. FFCRA leave requirements will expire on December 31, 2020. Please note that while local governments are required to provide FFCRA leave, they are not eligible for reimbursement of these costs. Click here for more on FFCRA leave.   Townships should determine now how they will handle travel quarantine situations, as well as employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are told to quarantine by a healthcare provider or the state Department of Health. To help you with this challenge, labor law attorneys from the firm of Eckert Seamans held a PSATS Town Hall in November to discuss how to manage employees during the pandemic, including the new travel quarantine. To listen to the free recording, click here

Revised State Mask Order Applies to Townships   

Townships should be aware that Pennsylvania’s revised mask order, which took effect November 17, applies to areas both inside and outside of local government facilities. The order is a requirement, not a recommendation, and is an enforceable disease control measure authorized by the Disease Prevention and Control Law.  

The mask order requires masks indoors or in enclosed spaces where other people who are not in the individual’s household are in the same space, irrespective of physical distance. In addition:  

  • Masks are required outdoors with non-household members if unable to maintain sustained physical distance of at least six feet;  
  • Masks are required to participate in an indoor/outdoor event, gathering or group setting if someone is present who is not a member of your household; and  
  • Businesses must require all to wear a mask or face shield and take reasonable steps to enforce these provisions.   
  • There is an exception for “working alone,” which includes someone inside an office or inside a cubicle “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.”   

Keep in mind that a number of the exemptions from the earlier mask order remain in place, including, individuals with medical conditions, where wearing a mask would create an unsafe working condition, an individual working alone, individuals communicating with the hearing impaired or another disability, and children under two years.     Face covering is broadly defined in the order and includes any covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps or loops over the ears or wrapped around the lower face.  Face shields continue to be acceptable as an alternative to a face covering. Click hereto read the mask order. To read the Department of Health’s Frequently Asked Questions on the order, click here.  

Townships Should Display Federal Coronavirus Leave Poster

Townships should be aware that the U.S. Department of Labor has a labor law poster on employee rights regarding the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides for up to two weeks of paid sick leave for qualifying reasons related to COVID-19. Townships should display the poster with other required state and federal labor law posters. The poster is available from the department free of charge by clicking here. To learn more about the paid leave requirements, click here.  

Can Advertised Virtual Meetings Still Violate the Sunshine Act?

The Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas recently issued a decision in McGrath v. Board of School Directors of City of Scranton, which involved a school board’s violation of the Sunshine Act and Act 15 of 2020.  
At the meeting in question, the school board furloughed 218 employees and terminated their health insurance coverage. The only public notice for the meeting stated that the meeting would be conducted virtually through Zoom and the public could view the meeting on the district’s YouTube channel. Prior to the start of the meeting, the district learned that the YouTube livestream was inoperable but proceeded with the meeting anyway. During the meeting, the district began to livestream the meeting on its Facebook page but did not communicate that to the public. It also posted copies of the meeting after the fact. 
The judge held that the furloughed employee satisfied her burden of proving that the school board and school district violated Sections 702, 704, and 710.1 of the Sunshine Act and Sections 5741(c) and (f) of Act 15 of 2020 and was entitled to an order temporarily enjoining the school board’s actions to furlough and terminate health insurance. The court held that the “public had a right to observe the Board’s virtual meeting on September 14, 2020, and to be furnished with advance public notice of the technology to be used to witness that meeting” and that “no member of the public was able to observe the meeting in real time by way of the technology identified for public viewing in the only public notice.” 
While the decision applies only to the parties involved, it serves as a reminder that township officials must allow the public to view or hear public meetings, including virtual meetings. While townships have the ability to conduct meetings virtually and limit the number of physical attendees at public meetings to comply with the commonwealth’s gathering limits, the public must be notified of how to access the meeting and be able to do so. 

PUC Modifies Emergency Order Suspending Terminations

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has adopted enhanced consumer protections to safeguard families and small businesses struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Townships that provide qualified services may continue to replicate the PUC practices including collections and grace periods. This includes continued termination protection for certain low-income residential customers, outreach to customers at risk of termination, waiver of connect/reconnect fees, and no late-payment charges. Terminations and collections for customers able to pay end November 9 for all electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications, and steam utilities subject to the commission’s jurisdiction. For more information, including additional reporting requirements for public utilities, click here.  

Clarification on Payroll Tax Deferral  

The Q&As below provide the latest clarification on the presidential memorandum authorizing the deferment of payments of the employee portion of Social Security taxes.

It is our understanding that the deferral is optional for employers. The press release from the IRS states that the guidance is implementing the presidential memorandum “allowing employers to defer withholding and payment of the employee’s portion of the Social Security tax if the employee’s wages are below a certain amount.” The guidance does not require the deferral. 

Yes, employees must be given the option to participate if employer decides to offer. 

No. It is only a delay, and the taxes must be withheld beginning in January 2021 and be submitted to the IRS no later than April 30, 2021.

No. It only applies to those employees who make less than $4,000 for any biweekly pay period between September 1 and December 31, 2020. It is determined whether deferment applies based on each payroll period. 

The employer. The employer may arrange for repayment with the employee, particularly if an employee would leave employment with the township before the deferred tax is repaid. If the employer fails to repay the taxes, it will face penalties for any unpaid deferred taxes as of May 1, 2021

Yes, if your township implements the deferral, affected employees will need additional withholding in 2021, which could be at 12.4 percent for Social Security if the employee makes the same amount in 2021 as in 2020.

 The township must withhold and pay over the deferred taxes or reimburse the township for this cost. If not, the township will be responsible for paying these taxes out of township funds. 

To read the presidential memorandum, click here. To read the guidance, click here. To read the IRS press release, click here.  

PennDOT Approval Needed for Street Dining, Special Events on Federal Aid Highways

The state Department of Transportation is reminding municipalities that many proposed local events use highways and highway rights of way for temporary non-highway uses, such as street dining. Under PennDOT’s guidance to its engineering districts, the districts process requests for state-designated highway use as special event permits (for road closures)

PennDOT must approve proposed uses of federal-aid highway rights of way, even those on federal-aid local streets that are not state highways. Under federal law, PennDOT is required to collect the fair market value for non-highway uses of all federal-aid highways. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) delegated to PennDOT the approval of non-highway use and occupancy for non-interstate roads, including locally owned streets. The FHWA will grant waivers for the fair market value requirement, but all waiver requests to the FHWA must come through PennDOT. 

PennDOT will apply its existing guidance to all requests for non-highway use of state-designated and federal-aid highways. Not all events, however, will require PennDOT special event permits. PennDOT will be issuing updated policy on FHWA approval for non-state highways soon. Contact your local Engineering District for guidance. Click here for PennDOT’s current Guidance for Temporary Non-Highway Use of Right-of-Way.

Importance of Contact Tracing, Possible Scams

The state Departments of Health and Aging warned Pennsylvanians about contact tracing scams and emphasized the need to stay alert as COVID-19 remains a threat in our communities.

“Contact-tracing is vital in the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and we want Pennsylvanians to be confident that if they receive a call from a contact-tracer that the call is legitimate,” Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “If someone is unsure and would like to verify if the caller does in fact work in contact tracing, they can call the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) to verify.” 

Within 24 hours of receiving a report of a positive test, trained public health staff interview the newly confirmed COVID-19 case to obtain a list of close contacts. Then contact tracers, both trained staff, and volunteers, reach out to those close contacts to educate, inform, and offer support. Methods used, after the initial phone call, may include phone calls, texts, emails, and mailings. Contact tracers will not say who exposed the individual in order to keep their information confidential. 

Scammers are pretending to be contact tracers and trying to get personal information out of victims through phone calls or electronic messages. 

A contact tracer may ask: 

  • For verification of your date of birth, address, and any other phone numbers you may have; and 
  • If you have already tested positive for COVID-19 they may also ask for the date and location of where you were tested. 

A contact tracer will never ask for: 

  • Your social security number, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to your potential exposure to someone with COVID-19; 
  • Personal information through SMS/text message or send you to any website link asking for personal information; 
  • Photographs or videos of any kind; 
  • Passwords; or 
  • Money or payment. 

A contact tracer will never share your information with any local, state or federal law enforcement agency. 

Please visit the Department of Health website for more information on the contact tracing process and contact tracing frequently asked questions.

COVID-19 Fact Sheets

PSATS has developed new fact sheets to help townships answer questions, learn best practices, and navigate Pennsylvania’s phased reopening. The fact sheets are a new PSATS member service that also link townships directly to the supporting state and federal guidance.