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Pennsylvania State Police issued 27 warnings to businesses who failed to comply with Gov. Tom Wolf’s order for “non-life-sustaining” businesses to close their physical locations, according to state police.

Enforcement of Wolf’s order began on Monday to lower the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus.

Of the 27 warnings issued statewide in the first day of the order’s enforcement, four warnings were issued in the local region covered by Pennsylvania State Police Troop A in Cambria, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, the state police information shows.

Pennsylvania State Police civilian spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said what he’s heard from troopers is that verbal warnings have been enough to make businesses comply.

Hypothetically, if they don’t comply, he said, they could face citations, fines and jail time.

“But state police aren’t going up and down the streets looking through windows. Police investigate tips received from the public about businesses they believe are in violation,” he said.

One tip questioning an Indiana County business also came to the Tribune-Democrat.

In Indiana County, hundreds of people are employed by Specialty Tires of America, where company leaders confirmed with government officials that they will continue working, employees said.

Employees said Monday that company officials gained confirmation that the business is approved to stay open, in part because it has contracts with the U.S. Defense Department.

In addition, as employees noted, rubber product manufacturing is on the governor’s list of businesses approved to continue physical operations.

The company builds race car tires, employees said – an industry on hold during the pandemic – but the company also builds military vehicle tires and truck tires and tires for agricultural equipment, according to its website.

 Workers trickled out of the Indiana County manufacturing business Monday, carrying lunch boxes to their vehicles after another day’s work building tires.

There’s about 350 employees there and about 100 employees on a shift, a worker who declined to give his name said.

Several employees spoke to The Tribune-Democrat with the condition they not be named.

Company officials declined a phone interview on Monday and did not return a call on Tuesday. 

One employee said they would rather be home.

“I just feel I should be home. 

“But there are many people who aren’t complaining about coming here and working and getting a paycheck,” she said.

And although normally the company does not offer paid sick days, employees have been told they would be provided two weeks of paid sick leave during the pandemic, she said.

“They went out of their way to create a sick policy,” she said.

In addition to sick pay, there are Clorox wipes available and signs up about social distancing, another employee said.

“I’m glad they are open. I don’t want to deal with the unemployment thing,” one worker said after his shift Monday.

Wolf’s list of business types distinguished as “life-sustaining” or allowed to stay open, and those that he’s ordered to close has been open to interpretation, and waivers are available for businesses that can show why their business should be open amid the pandemic.

In a press conference Monday, Wolf said thousands of businesses have applied for waivers since they became available last Friday.

He said about 2,000 waivers have been granted but also a number of them turned down.

A number of waiver applicants or recipients in Cambria County was unavailable Tuesday, but information Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce President Amy Bradley received from Sen. Wayne Langerholc’s office was that the state received more than 15,000 waiver applications across all counties. 

“I think businesses, like everyone, is just trying to figure out what the rules are,” Bradley said. “That’s why, as a chamber, we’re having daily meetings with the U.S. Chamber and the state chamber and keeping in close contact with our elected officials to try and help them determine that. I know a number of businesses have applied to have an exemption. I would imagine some of them are still trying to figure that out.”

Bradley said she thinks all businesses in the region are trying to do the right thing.

“I think they are trying to do the right thing and just balance still trying to be able to keep their doors open and provide a service but obviously while following the recommendations for keeping people safe,” she said. 

“It’s obviously a challenging time. I don’t think anyone’s out there just trying to disregard things. I think people are really just trying to understand it and figure out what it means for their business.”

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

 

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