Stay-At-Home Executive Orders: What Do They Mean and Don’t Mean for Your Church, Non-Profit, and Business
By Justin Coleman, Esq. and Robert Showers, Esq.
In response to the increased number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in the Mid-Atlantic potentially due to citizens ignoring the Center for Disease Control’s (“CDC”) social distancing guidelines, the mayor of the District of Columbia and the governors of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina issued Executive Orders (“Order” or “Orders”) requiring their citizens to Stay At Home for the foreseeable future. This article will briefly discuss what these Orders mean for individuals and for organizations in these jurisdictions including essential persons, essential businesses, essential activities and other questions that have arisen.
Under the Order, individuals who are currently residing in the jurisdiction are required to stay in their place of residence unless the Order permits them to leave for an identified purpose or activity. Where previous Orders have only recommended that individuals stay in their residence and avoid large gatherings, these new Orders are now requiring it and subjecting violations to criminal and civil penalties (discussed below).
While the Orders require individuals to stay at home, jurisdictions understand that their citizens do need to leave their home for various legitimate reasons and certain businesses and organizations must remain open and running to maintain cities and communities. Thus, each Order identifies those activities deemed Essential and will permit individuals to leave their residence in order to engage in the activity and return once the activity has been completed. These Essential Activities generally include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Obtaining food, beverages, and other essential goods and services for the individual and his/her family members;
- Seeking medical attention and/or necessary medical supplies;
- Care for family members, pets, or livestock in another residence or location;
- Traveling to and from places of business where telework is not available/practical;
- Traveling to and from educational institutions, places of religion, or charitable or social services where the individual is volunteering;
- Engaging in outdoor exercise activities;
- Travel due to court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care; or
- Leaving the residence due to a reasonable fear for health or safety.
While the above list does permit individuals to travel for limited purposes, the Orders clearly state that individuals must adhere to the CDC guidelines such as properly washing their hands, not going out if they are symptomatic, keeping the number of individuals at an activity under ten (10), and maintaining a minimum of six (6) feet of distance from other individuals.
The Orders permit individuals to cross jurisdictional lines for any of the above Essential Activities, but the jurisdictions have strongly advised that anyone coming into their jurisdiction for non-essential purposes should self-quarantine for fourteen (14) days.
Further, the jurisdictions have also identified which types of businesses and organizations are Essential and Non-essential and provides guidelines regarding their operations and staffing under the Orders.
Essential businesses include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that offer food, beverages, and pharmacy products;
- Medical facilities of all kinds and first responders;
- Medical supply retailers;
- Electronic retailers;
- Gas stations;
- Banks and financial institutions;
- Home improvement retailers;
- Automotive retailers and repair shops;
- Printing and office supply stores; and
- Governmental and/or Infrastructure offices.
- Child Care centers and schools serving essential persons’ children
Essential businesses and organizations are permitted to remain open during regular business hours and maintain adequate staff to conduct business. The CDC guidelines of 10 or less individuals gathered together does not apply to Essential Businesses; however, these businesses must observe other CDC guidelines on sanitizing shelves, tables, doors, shopping carts, and other hard surfaces where patrons and staff are likely to touch and reminding patrons to maintain social distancing.
Essential persons for the Orders are in general all medically related personnel, first responders, all food, clothes and household essentials, persons in the chain of delivery like store workers, truckers and suppliers and anyone who is essential to running the business .nonprofit if it can stay open or run from home. We have attached a complete list from Homeland Security that is being constantly updated.
In all four jurisdictions, charitable organizations which provide essential services to low-income individuals (i.e. food banks, shelters, etc.) or childcare for children of essential persons are either considered an Essential Business or expressly exempted from the Order. Thus, if your church or nonprofit provides outreach (either directly or through a solely owned auxiliary organization) via social services to low-income or disadvantaged individuals, you may still provide these services with staff and/or volunteers. If you have child care center and teachers willing to staff it (with specific liability releases from parents and teachers) you can be designated an Essential business by the state. However, you should follow CDC guidelines on sanitization, washing hands etc. and try to maintain social distancing standards between staff/volunteers and patrons, if possible.
Interestingly, North Carolina designates travelling to and from a place of worship as an Essential Activity but in Virginia individuals traveling to and from places of worship is a permitted reason to leave their residence. However, in both Executive Orders, places of worship are required to maintain CDC guidelines for social distancing for staff members and attendees. Thus, your church should remain closed to public and parishioners unless an essential business and drive in and drive through worship and activities may be allowed but you must abide by the CDC and check with local law enforcement.
All other businesses and organizations not identified under the Orders are considered Non-essential. If determined to be Non-essential, the business or organization is to be closed to the general public and may only maintain Minimal Operations. Minimal Operations for these purposes include, but may not be limited to:
- Performance of essential administrative duties;
- Directing staff to telework where possible;
- Maintaining essential property; and
- Prevention of loss, damage, or spoilage of personal property/inventory.
If teleworking is not available or impractical, non-essential businesses and organizations are to adhere to all CDC guidelines on sanitation, the limitation on number of individuals to less than ten (10), and social distancing for staff and guests. However, only essential persons of non- essential businesses are permitted to work onsite under CDC guidelines.
As churches and other religious organizations are considered Non-essential Businesses under these Orders, they are strongly encouraged to take advantage of options to provide virtual church through online resources or conduct “drive-through” worship. However, any physical gathering is limited to ten (10) individuals (which includes both staff and attendees) and those in attendance must adhere to the CDC guidelines on social distancing. Only essential persons for churches which are few in number are permitted on site to keep the church operating.
Enforcement of Executive Orders
Each of these Orders have differing effective and expiration dates, which may be reduced or extended by a subsequent Executive Order.
- DC: April 1 – April 24;
- NC: March 30 – April 29;
- VA: March 30 – June 10; and
- MD: No end date stated.
Individuals and organizations found in violation of these Orders will be subject to criminal and/or civil penalties. These penalties would include fines ranging from $1,000.00-$5,000.00, potential jail time up to one (1) year, and suspension or revocation of an entity’s business license.
While violations of these Orders are enforceable, law enforcement in the jurisdictions (state police, county sheriff offices, and city police) have made public statements on their enforcement of the Orders. All have consistently stated that they will not pull over local motorists solely to verify they are traveling for Essential Activities but may inquire about the driver’s destination if they have detained them for other lawful purposes. Many local law enforcement officers have stated that they will focus more on reminding businesses and citizens of the CDC’s guidelines for limited gatherings and social distancing if they observe it in public areas; however, repeated violations by one or more individuals would likely result in a citation or arrest.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Under these Stay At Home Orders, all churches and nearly all non-profit organizations and businesses have been required to minimize staff, reduce public interaction, and look for alternative methods to continue to operate at or close to regular levels.
For churches and religious nonprofits, they should consider this an opportunity to look at new ways to minister to both those within their membership and the community at-large.
Businesses and business owners will want to look at alternatives to providing goods and services to their customers (i.e. online, curbside, or delivery).
All businesses and organizations are also strongly advised to look into federal relief packages such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to assist in covering sick leave, payroll, and other operational expenses during this time. Our Firm has written White Paper articles summarizing these packages here and here. You can also find our guide to filing for government help from the CARES act here.
Disclaimer: This memorandum is provided for general information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice particular to your situation. No recipients of this memo should act or refrain from acting solely on the basis of this memorandum without seeking professional legal counsel. Simms Showers LLP expressly disclaims all liability relating to actions taken or not taken based solely on the content of this memorandum. Please contact Robert Showers at email@example.com, Justin Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Will Thetford at email@example.com or call at 703.771.4671 for legal advice that will meet your specific needs.
 This list includes those activities deemed essential between the four identified jurisdictions. Residents of a particular jurisdiction should contact knowledgeable legal counsel to verify if a desired activity is permitted under that jurisdiction’s specific Executive Order.
 This is a general list of businesses and organizations that are consistently considered essential between the four jurisdictions. Contact knowledgeable legal counsel to verify what businesses/organizations are essential for your jurisdiction.
 North Carolina Executive Order No. 121, Section 1, Para. 3(vi). (March 27, 2020).
 Virginia Executive Order Number 55, Para. 1(f). (March 30, 2020).