What the governor’s stay-at-home order means

  • Rachel McDevitt/StateImpact Pennsylvania

(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvanians are under a stay-at-home order through April 30 as the state tries to avoid a tipping point in the number of coronavirus cases.

After unveiling the initial order for the seven hardest-hit counties on March 23, Governor Tom Wolf said his goal was to slow the virus’s spread, and to keep the state’s health systems from being overwhelmed by patients.

“I want to act decisively, but I do not want to overreact,” Wolf said, explaining why the order only applied to counties that had seen the most cases.

As cases continued to increase, the governor progressively added more counties to the stay-at-home list, and applied the order statewide on April 1.

What the order means

The order is what it sounds like: people should not leave their homes — unless absolutely necessary.

The governor’s office has released a list of “allowable activities” that includes buying food and crucial supplies, seeking medical care, taking care of a family member, and exercising outside as long as a person maintains 6 feet of social distance.

People can also go to work or volunteer if they’re providing an essential service.

Here’s the full list of allowable activities and travel, as specified by the governor’s office:

  • Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including, but not limited to, pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home.
  • Wegmans in Mechanicsburg, Pa., is asking customers to limit purchases on certain items that have been more popular amid coronavirus concerns.a

    Lisa Wardle / WITF

    Like many grocery stores across the country, Wegmans in Mechanicsburg, Pa., is asking customers to limit purchases on certain items.

    Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves or their family or household members, or to deliver those services or supplies to others, such as getting food and household consumer products, pet food, and supplies necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences. This includes volunteer efforts to distribute meals and other life-sustaining services to those in need.

  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing.
  • To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business (see below for details about life-sustaining business activities).
  • To care for a family member or pet in another household.
  • Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities (see below for details about life-sustaining business activities).
  • Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.
  • Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services.
  • Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction.
  • Travel required by law enforcement or court order.
  • Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth.
  • Anyone performing life-sustaining travel does not need paperwork to prove the reason for travel.


People experiencing homelessness are not subject to the order.

Students who would be displaced or homeless as a result of campus closures are also exempt from the policy and can remain in campus housing.

The following operations are exempt:

  • Life-sustaining business activities
  • Health care or medical service providers
  • Access to life-sustaining services for low-income residents, including, but not limited to, food banks.
  • Access to child care services for employees of life-sustaining businesses that remain open as follows: child care facilities operating under the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning waiver process; group and family child care operating in a residence; and part-day school age programs operating under an exemption from the March 19, 2020 business closure Orders.
  • The news media
  • Law enforcement
  • The federal government
  • Religious institutions


While shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders in other states have come with penalties for those who don’t comply, Wolf’s office said law enforcement in Pennsylvania will only ensure people are aware of the order.

Wolf said the issue lies less in enforcement than in businesses and individuals recognizing their shared responsibility in protecting at-risk people from the virus.

“You need to ask yourself, do I really need to make this trip? Or am I going to put someone else’s life in jeopardy by making this trip? Am I going to be saving a life by staying home?” Wolf said.

He added he understands that staying home can feel difficult.

“A few weeks ago, Frances and I had our second grandchild and we both desperately want to hold him,” he said. “But for his safety and the safety of the rest of our family we are distancing ourselves. And I’m asking all of us to do the same thing.”

Answering your questions

Is fishing allowed?

Yes, as long as you follow social distancing guidelines and stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Find more information on how to stay safe while fishing in this FAQ from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Tony Yoon fishes at Meadow Lake in FDR Park.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Tony Yoon fishes at Meadow Lake in FDR Park.

Can I go to work?

Yes, assuming that your workplace is considered life-sustaining and remains open. Officials encourage everyone who can work from home to do so.

Can I go for a drive?

Maybe. You are allowed to drive to the grocery store or for any of the other allowable activities listed above. The governor’s office says residents will not be required to have official letters proving the purpose of travel, and that police are being told to focus on businesses’ compliance with the order instead of individual activities.

Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski told PennLive that voluntary compliance is preferred, but “troopers maintain discretion to warn or issue citations and the decision is specific to the facts and circumstances of a particular encounter.”

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