Wolf moves to shut bars, limit restaurant capacity, as COVID-19 numbers spike again

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Bar service is going to be limited again in Pennsylvania as COVID-19 cases are growing again in the state.

With COVID-19 numbers starting the creep up again in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf is hitting the brakes — especially when it comes to bars and restaurants — because people within the state aren’t always wearing masks, too many people are ignoring social distancing, too many people have traveled to or are visiting from COVID hot spots and because of the failed national response to the pandemic.

While the pandemic is running out of control in many southern states — states that opened much more aggressively than Pennsylvania — the state has seen a concerning growth in new cases over the last couple of weeks and are moving to limit the outbreak.

Wolf announced Wednesday that bars that do not serve food will again have to close — except for take out drinks, as permitted. Physical bars within restaurants will also have to close — and restaurants will now be limited to just 25% of capacity, down from the 50% permitted in the Green phase. The order takes effect at midnight, July 16.

“During the past week, we have seen an unsettling climb in new COVID-19 cases,” Gov. Wolf said. “When we hit our peak on April 9, we had nearly two thousand new cases that day with other days’ cases hovering around 1,000. Medical experts looking at the trajectory we are on now are projecting that this new surge could soon eclipse the April peak. With our rapid case increases we need to act again now.”

Chester County’s Commissioners issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, supporting Wolf’s decision, saying it is the best way to prevent a wider shut down.

“We must be prepared to resist the potential wave of COVID-19 coming from other regions of the US,” said the statement issued on behalf of Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline. “While it is challenging – and yes, frustrating – to implement an increase in restrictions, we believe that this is the right step to take, to avoid the move back to shutting down that other states have had to do.

Chester County is distinctive in the breadth of investigation, contact tracing and testing that has ensured our readiness to adapt.”

According to the announcement, Wednesday afternoon, all businesses in the retail food services industry, including restaurants, wineries, breweries, private clubs, and bars, are permitted to provide take-out and delivery sales of food, as well as dine-in service in both indoor and outdoor seating areas so long as they strictly adhere to the requirements of the guidance, as required by the order, including:

  • Prohibition from conducting operations unless the facility offers sit-down, dine-in meals or is serving take-out sales of alcoholic beverages. All service must be at a table or booth; bar service is prohibited.
  • Alcohol only can be served for on-premises consumption when in the same transaction as a meal.
  • Take-out sales of alcohol for the purposes of off-site consumption are permitted subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law.
  • Non-bar seating in outdoor areas (i.e. tables or counter seats that do not line up to a bar or food service area) may be used for customer seating.
  • Social distancing, masking, and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons.
  • Occupancy is limited to 25 percent of stated fire-code maximum occupancy for indoor dining, or 25 persons for a discrete indoor event or gathering in a restaurant. The maximum occupancy limit includes staff.

All nightclubs will close.

Indoor gatherings are now limited to 25, with outdoor gatherings limited to 250.

As for business: telework is now required unless impossible.

Gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to continue in operation, but with a preference for outdoor activities.

“The actions the governor and I are taking today are designed to be surgical and thus precise to prevent from repeating the cycle we saw in the spring,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health. “We have gained a great deal of experience since the start of this outbreak and have learned from best practices from other states as well as counties right here in Pennsylvania.”

Chester County continues to do fairly well in terms of new cases and hospitalizations — it appears that county residents have been better than average in terms of mask wearing and social distancing. Still, local officials know how quickly that can change — as seen this spring.

“This continues to be a critical time for our County and every county in Pennsylvania,” the Commissioners’ statement said. “With this in mind, we ask that you and your family continue to join us in best safety practices, including universal masking, physical distancing and testing with onset of symptoms. Working together, we can continue to fight COVID-19.”

The Commissioners note that no cost testing is available throughout the County and is open to all residents and individuals who work in Chester County. County sponsored locations, times and registration can be found on www.chesco.org/coronavirus.  If you have healthcare insurance, please bring your card.

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