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PA Businesses Push For Protection From Consumer Lawsuits During COVID-19

Master Sgt. George Roach
Pa. National Guard
The front line of defense against COVID-19 in Chester County is Medical Strike Team Iroquois. Staff Sgt. Kursty Campbell (Center Forward), Pfc. Josh OShea (Center Left), Pfc. Ryan Whispell (Right), Pfc. Michael Bonenberger (Left).

Leaders from Pennsylvania’s business, manufacturing, and health care industries are calling on the state to broaden liability protections to companies during the pandemic, saying without them economic growth will be hampered by an onslaught of lawsuits. 

“[We need] targeted, temporary, safe harbor protection for those health care facilities, professionals, and businesses who are following the guidelines,” said Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr on a press call Thursday. “So they can begin to bring their businesses back, so we can put the economy back together.”

Earlier this month Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order providing temporary immunity from lawsuits to health care providers. Those on the call Thursday said those protections were insufficient, because they don’t extend to businesses themselves. 

Organizers pointed to posts on social media by trial lawyers seemingly preparing lawsuits against nursing homes in the state, as well as a number of lawsuits recently filed by customers of Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh area grocery store chain, over the company’s policy requiring shoppers to wear masks. 

“Giant Eagle is being sued for … complying with the governor’s order,” Barr said. “These are the kinds of things we are looking at. This is not protecting the bad actors.” 

Top Republicans in Congress have demanded broad liability protections for businesses in any future stimulus package. 

Democrats, and some Pennsylvania malpractice lawyers, argue that these protections would shield bad actors, and make it harder to enforce safety rules. 

Wolf’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Philly preparing to start contact tracing

Philadelphia hopes to have everything in place for its contract-tracing system “over the next few weeks.”

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday the city is in the process of developing and piloting protocols for the system. It is also setting up software, as well hiring people to perform the tracing.

“This process involves a lot of information flowing from many different entities so you need to have good software in order to track it all accurately,” said Farley during a virtual news conference.

The city will draw on three pools of people to complete the tracing. They are:

  • Paid staff hired through nonprofits. Functionally, these people will be city staff, said Farley.
  • Employees of partnering health care organizations. For now, the city has only reached an agreement with Penn Medicine, which, in coordination with the city, will do tracing for its patients.
  • Volunteers, including public health students.

The program is coming together as the city prepares to move from “red” to “yellow” under the state’s color-coded reopening plan.
The city recorded 175 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 22,150. Ten new deaths were reported, bringing the total to 1,258.

Farley has said that the city would reconsider moving into the yellow phase if its daily numbers suddenly spiked.

“If the numbers doubled, I would be very concerned,” he said.

Read more from our partners, WHYY.