Wolf administration backtracks on closing laundromats for coronavirus

When Gov. Tom Wolf first issued a new order for businesses to close, laundromats were included. After public feedback, he’s reversing course.

Venita Bracy at a laundromat in Northeast Philadelphia, on Feb. 15, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Venita Bracy at a laundromat in Northeast Philadelphia, on Feb. 15, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

When Luz Toledo read Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest order to close “non-life sustaining” businesses to contain coronavirus spread on Thursday night, she was concerned.

Dry cleaning and laundry services were listed among the businesses that weren’t allowed to continue physical operations. And Toledo, who runs the L.T. Laundromat in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood with her husband Norberto, assumed the closure order applied to her.

Even during a pandemic, she said, laundromats are important — especially in cities where it’s common not to have private laundry.

“People still have dirty clothes,” she said.

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Toledo was right to be worried — at least at first. Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for Wolf’s administration, said the order was supposed to apply to laundromats. However, after getting feedback from businesses and local officials, they decided to change course and move laundromats into the “life-sustaining” category.

State Rep. Patty Kim, a Democrat from Harrisburg, was one of the people who urged a change in course.

The issue came to her attention when several constituents reached out to her on Facebook.

“After some really good points that renters who do not have access to a washer and dryer need to have this and that it’s essential, especially if we’re carrying viruses, I reached out to the governor’s office,” she said. “I got a call back, and they were also getting concerns out of Philadelphia…and said they were going to reconsider.”

Kensinger said now, the Wolf administration is “working through [the] process” of notifying laundromats that they’re allowed to stay open.

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Not everyone appears to have gotten the message.

In York County, for instance, one laundromat is closed and has the governor’s executive closure order posted in its window.

Toledo said she knows business owners in Philadelphia who are deciding to close even if they have permission to keep running — especially if they’re smokers or have health issues that make them susceptible to COVID-19.

She doesn’t think she’s as high of a risk — but is still taking precautions. Only two people at a time are now allowed in the L.T. Laundromat, and they have to call ahead and let Toledo and her husband know they’re coming.

When customers come in with their laundry, they have to use the hand sanitizer. Toledo now keeps a bottle at the door. She also has them spritz themselves with a homemade solution of alcohol, aloe and essential oil, and she wipes down everything the customers touch with bleach.

These days, she said, “My eyes are on the customer. I’m not doing anything else.”

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