Printers in Pennsylvania in Upheaval About Potential 'Nonessential Business' Closures
UPDATE: In this fast-moving story, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf amended his Industry Operation Guidance list on March 20, and "Printing & Related Support Activity" businesses can remain open. This is, obviously, great news for graphic arts establishments throughout Pennsylvania.
As states try to slow the novel coronavirus outbreak from spreading further, the federal government and several state governors are increasingly urging people to stay, and work, from home wherever possible, and to foster social distancing. Churches, schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, and other places where people congregate are being closed.
On March 19, the Department of Homeland Security’s CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) published guidance to state and local jurisdictions, and to the private sector, defining what it classifies as essential critical infrastructure workers who are imperative to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CISA identified “Communications and Information Technology” as a critical sector that must remain functioning during this national emergency. However, as noted by Printing Industries of America (PIA) President and CEO Michael Makin in a breaking member alert, in the definition of “Communications,” CISA explicitly left out printed communication as one such essential function.
"As of March 20, Printing Industries of America is in communication with the White House, CISA, and leaders on Capitol Hill to immediately correct the guidance on essential critical workforce to include 'print and graphic communications' on this list, as well as to specify the manufacturing, logistics, and warehousing published by CISA to include print and packaging," he said.
Pennsylvania Governor Orders Nonessential Business Closures
And, on March 19, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order mandating that all nonessential, life-sustaining businesses close — which seems to include many printing businesses. Companies can reportedly apply for exemptions on an individual basis, but it remains unclear how quickly that appeals process may work. To add to the confusion, it appears that Pennsylvania created its own list, and didn't follow the federal CISA guidance. That has created a furor in the Keystone State as to which types of printing companies, and which printing industry products, could be deemed as being essential or not.
“As an industry, we are appreciative and supportive of Governor Wolf’s leadership in managing this unprecedented situation, however the recent mandate that includes print as a non-life-sustaining industry is a gross error in judgment," Graphic Arts Association (GAA) President Melissa Jones wrote in a position statement sent to the governor's office.
"Print remains a critical link in the manufacturing industry and a certain level of printing is critical in supporting those industries now classified as “life sustaining. Printing firms are performing activities that are crucial to the efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic."
For example, one Philadelphia-area printer sent a letter to its customers assuring them it intends to remain open, saying it "supplies products to the health and pharmaceutical industries. Additionally, we fall under other categories such as industrial manufacturing, storage, warehousing and distribution. We will continue to operate under these criteria as well as fitting within the 'Publishing' and 'Converted Paper' headings."
But it remains unclear as this mandate rapidly unfolds how the majority of Pennsylvania printing companies really might stand at this point, and what falls under being essential or not. And, perhaps, more alarming is fears that similar nonessential business closure measures, which are already happening in states like California, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois, among many others, will become almost as contagious as the virus itself.
Stay tuned for further developments of what's happening on a state-by-state, and federal basis, as the situation remains very fluid.