Recent assembly meetings have been held by teleconference in a mostly empty borough assembly chambers. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly has passed a public health order, mandating that people shelter in place and close non-essential businesses to prevent the spread of coronavirus. That’s just days after passing an advisory asking for many of the same steps. This order adds the possibility of enforcement if people do not practice social distancing or observe other new limitations.

Wednesday’s mandate by the borough assembly orders people in Petersburg to shelter in place but allows for leaving your homes for essential activities. Those include things like seeking medical help, food shopping and going outdoors to exercise away from others. The borough’s incident commander Karl Hagerman explained the mandate does allow for enforcement by local police.

“They (the police) will try to do what is right to guide people towards compliance and not immediately jump to heavy handed actions,” Hagerman told the assembly. “Again this is an issue that requires understanding, respect for our neighbors and acceptance of what we’re dealing with and writing a bunch of tickets or even incarcerating somebody doesn’t really help with that but it is possible and this mandate does bring that into play.”

The mandate also orders the closure of non-essential businesses, although the list of businesses that are deemed essential is long. Those deemed essential include everything from health care, critical infrastructure and government operations, grocery, marijuana and liquors stores, gas stations and mechanics, news media, plumbers and many other services, just to name a few.

The borough again received dozens of emails asking the assembly to approve a health order to shelter in place for the community. Only two opposed such a mandate. Other comments asked for allowances for businesses and measures that would help the most vulnerable in the community.

The assembly did amend the order to increase caps on the maximum number of patrons allowed at one time inside certain stores. The cap for grocery stores, convenience stores and marijuana stores was bumped to 25 while hardware stores, automotive and marine supply was increased to 10. That’s after Hammer and Wikan general manager Jim Floyd commented that the higher cap would be more reasonable for his business to enforce. Hagerman explained that space constraints for smaller businesses in those categories would also come into consideration.

“If there’s an issue in any store with patrons meeting that six foot separation distance then they’ll have to be fewer people less than 25,” Hagerman said. “So it’s kind of self-regulating somewhat. The owners of the businesses will have to regulate that.”

Some assembly members had mixed feelings about enacting the emergency measure which is taking away freedoms. Here’s Brandi Marohl.

“To me it seems like all the businesses are acting accordingly to our alert,” Marohl said. “Seems like people are being proactive and I don’t necessarily know if a mandate is necessary at this point.”

Another assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor supported the order.

“The medical professionals in our community, the people who are truly on the front lines, the scientists if you will, support this,” Stanton Gregor said. “They feel it’s important to our community. And those are the people I feel I need to look to at this time.”

Others acknowledged the impact that business closures will have on employers and workers.

The changes in maximum patrons for the two different classes of essential patrons passed unanimously and the order itself also passed 6-0. Assembly member Taylor Norheim did not attend the meeting but submitted a comment. The order takes effect immediately throughout the borough and runs through April 9th but can be ended early or extended.

As of Tuesday there have been thirteen people tested for covid-19 and four have tested negative in this community. Results on the remaining nine are still pending. As of Tuesday, there is yet to be a confirmed case in Petersburg.